The rally was organised by members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS). Unfurling their green flag for the first time, members of MSS drew inspiration from the recent victory in Niyamgiri Hills, where the Gram Sabhas outrightly rejected the proposed bauxite mining in the region.
“We are happy that so many people have come together to rightfully claim what has been theirs for several generations. More villages should come under the banner of MSS. We need to strengthen our fight locally in order to get what people in Niyamgiri have achieved,” said Bechan Lal, member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti and a resident of Amelia village.
Virendra Singh, member of MSS shared the resolution that was passed at the meeting. “It has been unanimously decided that people of Mahan will not give up their forest land. They will continue their fight peacefully and put pressure on authorities to enforce the Forest Rights Act,” he said.
As a precursor to the public meeting, members of MSS braved torrential rains and undertook a five-day Yatra on foot across 11 villages (Amelia, Budher, Bandhaura, Piderwah, Bandha, Barwantola, Berdaha, Jamgadhi, Khanuakhas, Pedtali, Badalmada) to garner support.
Members of Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Anurag Modi, Sunil Bhai, Madhuri Krishnaswamy, and Rajesh of Jan Chetna Manch also lend their support to the movement. “The development model adopted by the Madhya Pradesh government has failed. Be it thermal power or nuclear power, they are just modes of robbing the state of its natural resources. Such a development model needs to be relooked,” said Anurag Modi of Jan Sangharsh Morcha.
“Mining would not only destroy our homes but will also make basic amenities like water scarce. The electricity produced at the thermal plant would go to big cities and we would be left in darkness. Many villagers in Singrauli have still not received any compensation from companies. As far as jobs are concerned, we won’t get anything beyond menial labour work due to our limited literacy levels. Ultimately we would have left with no choice but to migrate to the cities. Are we ready for all this?” asked Ujraj Singh Khairvar, member of MSS.
On Juy 19, 2013, the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, Mr V.K.C. Deo had slammed the state government of Madhya Pradesh for ‘blatantly violating the Forest Rights Act’. At a joint press conference with MSS and Greenpeace India, the minister assured the villagers that a probe will be ordered for investigating the Amelia Gram Sabha resolution, which gave a go-ahead to the mining proposal. A copy of the resolution obtained through an RTI shows that most signatures had been forged. Mr Deo has written strongly worded letters to the chief minister and governor of MP on the issue.
Priya Pillai, senior campaigner, Greenpeace, who has been working with members of MSS for the past two years emphasised that the fight would remain non-violent. “The PMO, coal and power ministries can no longer afford to bypass laws. The implementation of FRA is a right granted to these communities by the Constitution of India,” said Pillai.
Pillai said that granting forest clearance to the mine will mean completely destroying the livelihoods of 14,190 people, out of which 5,650 are from tribal communities as per the 2001 census. “Allowing the 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,” she added.
While the MSS unfurled their green flag, for the first time, they were cheered by community members of 11 villages, who participated in the meeting. “The flag has elements which are symbolic of the struggle of the people here. While the mahua tree on the flag symbolises dependence of people on mahua for their livelihood, the peacock feathers shows their love for the animals thriving in the forests. The chain of people holding hands symbolises unity,” said Ujraj Singh Khairvar.
About Mahan Sangharsh Samiti
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.
For further information
Countering Coal –a discussion paper by Kalpavriksha and Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/report/Countering-coal.pdf
Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India: 9999357766
Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 08359826363
Anindita Datta Choudhury, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 9871515804
Jagori Dhar, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: 9811200481