The solidarity event was attended by celebrities including Ali fazal, Prahlad Kakkar and Kitu Gidwani in Mumbai and Manoviraj Khosla, Suresh Heblikar and Prakash Belawadi in Bangalore.
The clearance granted by Veerappa Moily, Minister of Environment and Forests, in February this year tramples over the hopes and aspirations of over 50,000 forest dwellers, whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened by the proposed coal mine of Mahan Coal Ltd (a joint venture of Essar power and Hindalco) in Mahan forests. "The recent evidence on Moily's camaraderie with Essar in the case of Ratna field throws light on the flawed process that was followed to give a speedy clearance to Essar and Hindalco in Mahan, despite the fact that the proposal for clearance was rejected by two of the previous environment ministers, as well as the Forest Advisory Committee. This indicates a government–corporate nexus," said Priya Pillai, senior campaigner, Greenpeace India.
In sync with the theme 'Green Cities', young volunteers from the three cities asserted that they do not want development at the cost of biodiversity and the lives of forest dwellers. "As cities expand, the energy needs of India continue to grow. But we must realise that coal mining is not the only solution for our energy problems as it leads to massive CO2 emissions, loss of biodiversity and large scale displacement of people, who eke out a living from the forests. Mahan is the last unfragmented forest in central India and we will fight to save Mahan," said Ali Fazal, actor and a Greenpeace supporter.
Through the month of April, urban youngsters have participated in solidarity activities for saving Mahan. On April 11, a group of 26 volunteers from across the country travelled to Mahan forests for 15 days to help the villagers fundraise by collecting Mahua fruits in the forests. Mahua fruits are collected between March and April every year. The fruits are then used for making various edible items and local liquor. The money earned by selling these fruits forms a major chunk of the annual income of villagers. "We are humbled by their gesture of helping with Mahua collection. The group from the city has been getting up at the crack of dawn every day and helping with Mahua picking throughout the day. It is not an easy task. But the dedication of the volunteers is very encouraging. It gives us hope and assurance that we are not alone in the fight to save Mahan," said Anita Kushwaha, a member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) and a resident of Budher Village, with whom the volunteers have been staying for the past few weeks.
Greenpeace's Advertisement in the Newspaper
The advertisement that appeared in Business Standard today is a crowd-funded ad. However, last week, Essar sent a fresh legal notice to Greenpeace India on learning that the NGO was trying to crowd-fund the advertisement. The injunction demanded that we drop the crowd-funding activity as it was defaming the company. "Despite the injunction, Greenpeace India took the bold step of going ahead with the ad and organising solidarity events in cities and in Mahan forests to support Mahan Sangarsh Samiti in their fight," says Priya Pillai. Till date, 1,020 people have pledged money for the advertisement.
Greenpeace India has been at the receiving end of a flurry of false allegations and bullying tactics by Essar. Following Greenpeace India's protests at Essar's headquarters in Mumbai against the company's proposed coal mine in Mahan, the company slapped a Rs. 500-crore defamation suit and a gag order in the Bombay High Court against Greenpeace and the villagers of Mahan.
Greenpeace India demands that the forest clearance decision must be reconsidered by an independent decision-maker on the grounds of a thorough and genuine evaluation. Until then, the clearance decision should be considered invalid.
 About Mahan Sangharsh Samiti: There are 54 villages dependant on the Mahan forests of Singrauli. Community members from five villages (Amelia, Bandhaura, Budher, Suhira and Barwantola) in the Mahan forests have organised themselves under the banner of MSS to assert their forest rights and have been opposing the proposed mine of Mahan Coal ltd (a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco). After a public meeting in August 2013, six more villages joined the movement, further strengthening MSS.
The Mahan coal block was initially rejected by former Environment Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh. However, 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.
Mining will destroy the livelihoods of over 50,000 people. Mining in Mahan would mean opening doors for other coal blocks like Chatrasal awaiting approvals in the Mahan forests, which will further fragment the entire forest in the region.
For more information, please contact:
Priya Pillai, Member of MSS & Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India: +91-999 935 7766;
Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Media Officer, Greenpeace India:+91-835 982 6363;
Jagori Dhar, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-981 120 0481; jagori.
Anindita Datta Choudhury, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-987 151 5804;
Pari Trivedi, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-987 349 5994;