08 May 2014

© Steve Fisch Photography


For years now, courage has been defined in many different ways. But it all comes down to this – courage is not the absence of fear but our ability to get past it and follow our truth. And when ordinary people show extraordinary strength to follow their truth, it gives others the power to follow theirs.

Environmental activist Ramesh Agrawal, who helped villagers stop a massive coal mining project in Chhattisgarh, is one such example. He is also one of the six people from around the world to be awarded the prestigious Goldman Environment Prize.

The individual cash prize of $175,000 makes it the largest award of its kind.

The annual prize honours exceptional grassroots environmentalists for their continuous efforts to protect the environment, often at great personal risk. For Agrawal, the risk was a matter of life and death. But that didn't stop him from leading a campaign against coal mining in Chhattisgarh, which eventually put pressure on authorities to cancel the project.

But soon after Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) coal mining project was abandoned, two gunmen broke into Agrawal's cyber cafe and shot him in the leg, severely injuring him.

Agrawal survived the attack, but faces a long road to recovery. Now, 58, he wears a cast on his upper leg and cannot walk without a cane. But that hasn't stopped him from helping villagers assert their rights as landowners and apply for mineral rights to the coal buried under their properties.

Although Agrawal's story is that of real strength and courage, he isn't the only one. There are many other activists like Agrawal and campaigning environmental groups, who are doing their best to create awareness amongst villagers across India to demand for their rights. And block mining projects which will not only destroy their livelihoods, but also the environment.

One such example is the people of Mahan, who are currently lobbying against a coal project planned by the Mahan Coal Limited (a joint venture of Hindalco Industries Ltd. and Essar Power Ltd.) in Madhya Pradesh. What's at stake is 5,00,000 trees and livelihoods of nearly 50,000 villagers. The company is trying to stifle this struggle by slapping legal suits on these villagers to the tune of Rs. 500 crore! Not to mention that they face threats from local company goons on a regular basis to boot.

Shares Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India's Climate and Energy Campaigns Manager, "We are delighted that Ramesh Agrawal has been awarded the Goldman Prize for his inspiring campaign against Jindal's destructive coal mining project in Chhattisgarh. He has kept up the fight despite the odds and the intimidation from both the state and the company."

Komal Singh is the Web Editor at Greenpeace India.