20 May 2014
Peaceful Forest Protest in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace
Our journey from Mumbai to Singrauli and back was a memorable journey that I will forever remember. It was not just a journey but a struggle for the protection of the Mahan forest, all of us had one aim, to protect the rights of the people who live in Mahan forest.
When I went to Mahan I thought it would be just another rural experience for me, since I've lived in rural areas as a social worker for long periods of time. I presumed that even the forest issues here would be just like other forest problems that one reads about. However, when I started interviewing the people of the Mahan Forest, I came to know that the forest is the only source of livelihood because the forest provides them with major forest products that give them firewood, fruits, medicine and so on. Besides this, the village water source also lies in the forest.
The Mahan forest plays an extremely crucial role in their day-to-day lives, but now there is a condition that has been placed upon the people. They have to pay the Munshi (forest department official) Rs.50/- for each tree that belongs to their land! These officials are taking advantage of the villagers, some of whom are not aware of the way the laws work. Singrauli was the best example of distraction in the name of DEVELOPMENT! Over here development only means money going into the company's pockets, no public welfare or service is provided to the people. In this district, the government officials are literally bought over by companies like ESSAR Group and Reliance who continue to destroy the forest and extract coal in the name of electricity for the people.
When I entered Singrauli, the first thing which affected my health was the presence of coal dust in the air, I was unable to breath. Such unlivable environmental conditions! Our guest house where we were living was in middle of several power plants, including Reliance thermal power plant, the coal mines and especially ESSAR power plant. I wondered how the people lived here, when I who had come to this town for just a short while was feeling so suffocated and uneasy. Even doctors adviced that it would be better to stay at home and exercise rather than get out of your house for a morning walk, since early mornings were possibly the most polluted time of the day! All one can see during daybreak is the smog that consumes the entire city.
We went to a local place for dinner in Waidhan, while we walked back we passed another thermal power plant. Coal extraction seems to be taking place everywhere! If I analyse this condition to give you my true opinion, then I would have to say that this is the hell we're turning India into! Everything is getting destroyed in the name of so-called "DEVELOPMENT", no importance is given in terms of people's lives and they've completely failed in providing services to fulfill people's basic needs. Promises of providing employment, fair compensation and appropriate rehabilitation for their land has gone in vain. This has caused a negative effect on the peoples lives, they've lost their rights and they feel violated.
I just want to end my article by saying that it is always the rural people who have to sacrifice their rights, their needs and desires, in order to satisfy our need, so that we can live a luxurious life in urban cities! While they live in darkness, we receive light from the land they live in. The people of the Mahan forest need our moral support! I would like to request all the people who are reading this article to please think about what I have to say. Wake up and help us in saving the Mahan forest!
Sumit Jagtap is a volunteer with Greenpeace India and a student of Social Work.