This comes two months after the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, Mr V.K.C. Deo wrote strongly- worded letters to the chief minister and governor of Madhya Pradesh, about FRA violations in the Mahan forests in the Singrauli district. The state government has been tight-lipped about the issue and hasn't come out with any sort of response.
"The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs has still not got a response from the chief minister. The state government cannot afford to drag its feet over the issue," said Priya Pillai, an activist with MSS and a Senior Campaigner with Greenpeace India, who has been working with villagers in Mahan for the past two-and-a-half years for implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
"The MoEF granted Stage I clearance to the Mahan coal block (allotted to Mahan Coal Ltd – a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco) last year, along with 36 conditions which includes implementation of FRA. However, the state government has gone ahead and given an NOC to the company on the basis of a fraudulent Gram Sabha resolution," added Pillai.
A special Gram Sabha on FRA was held on March 6, 2013 in Amelia, which was attended by only 184 people. But the copy of the Gram Sabha resolution obtained through RTI (after four months) has 1,125 signatures – most of them, the villagers fear, have been forged. At a joint press conference with MSS members on July 19 2013, Mr Deo assured he will look into the matter.
"We have come to Bhopal to demand our rights from the Chief Minister of our state. The Minister for tribal affairs had assured us of his support, but the State Government has not spoken a word on the issue," said Ujiraj Singh Khairwar, member of MSS and a resident of Amelia. "The mine will render us homeless. For generations we have been dependent on the forests for our livelihoods," he added.
Sunil Bhai of Samajvadi Jan Parishad & Jan Sangharsh Morcha said: "Handing over the lush green forests to two top industrial houses – despite environmental concerns and resistance from the local populace – is another glaring example of how the nation is being robbed of its natural resources. The 'Coalgate' is not only a great drain of state revenue, but an attack on the lives of people at the grassroots level." He added that it also exposes the bogus claims of development by the state and central governments.
Members of MSS have been actively trying to mobilise support for their fight among villages affected by the mine. On August 4, 2013, MSS organised a public meeting, which saw the participation of about 1,000 people from 11 villages – Amelia, Budher, Bandhaura, Piderwah, Bandha, Barwantola, Berdaha, Jamgadhi, Khanuakhas, Pedtali and Badalmada.
"Before the meeting, we undertook a five-day Yatra on foot across these 11 villages to garner support. It is very heartening to see so many people including members from people's movement groups echoing our demand to save the Mahan forests from coal mining. This is encourages us to take our fight forward," said Ganeshi Singh Gond a member of MSS.
About Mahan Sangharsh Samiti
There are 62 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). 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.
Granting forest clearance to the mine will destroy the livelihoods of 14,190 people, out of which 5,650 are from tribal communities as per the 2001 census. Stage II clearance to Mahan coal block would mean opening doors for other coal blocks like Chatrasal awaiting approvals in the Mahan forests, which will further fragment the entire forests in the region.
For further information
Countering Coal –a discussion paper by Kalpavriksha and Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/report/Countering-coal.pdf
Singrauli –The Coal Curse
Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India: 09999357766,
Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 08359826363,
Jagori Dhar, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 09811200481,
Anindita Datta Choudhury, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 09871515804,