"In a matter of 20 days our new environment minister has cleared 70 projects worth Rs 1.5 lakh crores which means he can't possibly have considered each proposal properly. Has he been appointed to line the pockets of a tiny number of wealthy corporate companies, who are out there to wipe off forests like Mahan, or to safeguard the environment, rights of people and wildlife of the country?" asked Priya Pillai, campaigner, Greenpeace India. "The sequence of events leading to the allocation of Mahan to Essar is questionable. It was rejected by Moily's predecessor Jairam Ramesh but the company used its influence and got Stage I clearance. Pushing for the mine now without implementing the Forest Rights Act is a clear violation of our constitution," Pillai explained.
Youngsters from Mumbai joined hands with communities from the Mahan forests holding banners stating 'leave our forests alone.' The villagers are members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) – an organisation set up to defend the rights of those, who derive their livelihood from the Mahan forests. This rare union of the villagers and urban youngsters was an initiative to draw attention to the mass destruction of forests in the name of development. This forest has been allocated to Mahan Coal Ltd to fuel the power plants of two companies – Essar Power and Hindalco Industries. It is among coal blocks allocated at throwaway prices by the coal ministry during the coal scam period and has now come under the CBI's scrutiny. Apart from being home to 14,000 people, 160 plant species, along with endangered animals and birds saving Mahan becomes critical as it is the last remaining patch of dense, unfragmented forest in the central Indian landscape.
"It is a historic day for all of us here. Essar is encroaching upon our homes in Mahan forest and its corporate bigwigs want to rob us of our livelihood in order to make quick money for themselves. We have travelled 2,000 kilometres to their head office in Mumbai to send them a strong message that our voices cannot be silenced," said Kripanath, member of MSS and a resident of Amelia village in Singrauli district, Madhya Pradesh.
The villagers were actively supported by youngsters from Mumbai who echoed their concerns. "We may live in cities but there's a strong connection between us and the people from Mahan, who stand to lose their homes. We are taking a huge risk by scaling this massive building but the ugly face of the corporate world and the MoEF has to be exposed. This planned destruction of Mahan has to be stopped and we will not allow India's forests to fall into the hands of corruption and greed!" said Brikesh Singh, a member of Junglistan – Greenpeace India's longest running campaign that mobilises the urban youth to take up the cause of saving forests. On 21st January, more than 1,000 people participated in a Junglistan secret mission called '#IamMahan' on Greenpeace India's social media networks to show their support for the Mahan forests. So far over one million people have signed up the online petition at www.junglistan.org and become members of Junglistan and have vowed to save forests like Mahan.
Greenpeace activists in London also demonstrated outside Essar Power's office at Berkeley Square joining the chorus with the people of Mahan and urban youngsters that, 'Essar stay out of Mahan!' The company is listed in the London stock exchange. "Geographically we may be miles apart and might not have been to Mahan but we feel very strongly for the communities who will lose all. The Indian government should reflect the desires of its citizens to protect their valuable environment, not tear up the country for the private profit of a few corporations," said a source from Greenpeace UK.
About Mahan Forests
The Mahan coal block was granted to Mahan Coal Ltd, a joint venture of Essar Power and Hindalco Industries in 2006 after it was initially rejected by former environment minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh. It was granted in-principal (Stage I) approval by the MoEF on October 18, 2012, after substantial pressure from the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Coal Mining. This approval came with 36 conditions, which require a range of studies to be completed and the processes under the Forest Rights Act to be complied with. There are 62 villages dependant on the Mahan forests of Singrauli. Community members from eleven villages in the Mahan forests have organised themselves under the banner of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti to assert their forest rights and have been opposing the proposed mine of Mahan Coal Ltd.
Notes to the editor
Live visuals available at www.junglistan.org
Countering Coal – a discussion paper by Kalpavriksha and Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/report/Countering-coal.pdf
Singrauli – The Coal Curse
For more information, please contact
Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India, 09999357766,
Brikesh Singh, Head, Public Engagement, Greenpeace India, 09880092210,