A Resurgence of Satyagraha

Non-Violent Resistance Against Essar’s Coal Mining in Mahan Forest

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Feature story - February 28, 2014
On Thursday, thousands of villagers from 12-14 villages in the Mahan region of Singrauli, came together for a mass public rally in Amelia to oppose mining in the forests of Mahan.The rally marks the beginning of a Van Satyagraha to defend the valuable forest. At the rally, members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti organised themselves into human message that read ‘Essar quit Mahan’.

28 February 2014 Essar Quit Mahan

Human banner made by MSS activists. Photo- Greenpeace India

The mass protest comes days after the Environment Minister, Veerappa Moily granted Stage II forest clearance to Mahan coal block, allocated to Mahan Coal Ltd –a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco. This despite the fact that the villagers have indisputable evidence proving that the special Gram Sabha resolution on Forest Rights Act –based on which, the clearance has been given – was forged. The gram sabha that was held to decide whether villagers wanted a mine had 1125 signatories though only 184 villagers attended it. Furthermore, nine of the signatories have been dead for three years.

Essar is keen to build its mine quickly, in spite of the forgery, and in spite of violations of laws in the process.When faced with protests and villagers defending their rights, they have tried to muzzle the opposition, including through gag orders. Jag Narayan Shah, member of MSS was one of the many villagers who has faced threats and intimidation because he filed an FIR challenging the validity of the gram sabha results.

The fast-growing on-ground resistance in the Mahan forests has garnered a massive support base across India. “The movement has over a million supporters across India, who lent their support through social media and other platforms. The movement is also being supported by leaders of various people’s movements including the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Aadivasi Mukti Sanghatan and Chattisgharh Bachao Andolan. This union of urban and rural India is unprecedented. Essar has a fight on their hands,” said Priya Pillai, senior Greenpeace Campaigner.

There is undeniable evidence that the Mahan coal block was allocated in the most non-transparent manner. Even Moily’s predecessors have opposed mining in Mahan. But despite this, an inter-ministerial group (IMG) that was looking into de-allocation of coal blocks that have not commenced mining gave a clean chit to the Mahan coal block.

The demand is for Stage II clearance to be revoked with immediate effect. The Van Satyagraha will continue until the decision to mine in the forests is rolled back. The massive support of over a million Indians for the people of Mahan will not allow mega corporations to destroy India's forests.

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