Forged Signatures - The Basis of Mahan's Clearance

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Feature story - May 12, 2014
Nai Duniya, the Hindi newspaper carried story on May 8th regarding the irregularities connected to the Gram Sabha resolution regarding Essar and Hindalco's proposed coal mine in Mahan's forests. The resolution that was designed to give a voice to people that are going to be affected by the mine was instead used to bolster Essar's claim to one of the oldest sal forests in India.

12 May 2014

Peaceful Forest Protest in India © Greenpeace

The article details the RTI which makes it evidently clear that the Gram Sabha resolution that was passed in Essar's favour in order to secure the environmental clearance had numerous alarming irregularities. The number of villagers present at the Gram Sabha resolution was stated to be 1125 with the majority voting in favour of the coal block. This contradicts Mahan Sangharsh Samiti's data which states that the Gram Sabha had a turnout of 188 villagers. What's even more startling is that the names of the signatories in favour of the coal mine includes a number of forged signatures of people who have been dead for years. Not just that, it also includes forged signatures of people who were in prison at the time.

Mahan Sangharsh Samiti reported this discrepancy and the matter of the forged signatures to the police by filing a complaint in February 2014. No action has been taken so far on the matter. Reacting to the allegations, Essar chose to pass the buck by blaming the local administration. Essar's Public Relations Officer, Mahan Coal Block is quoted in Nai Duniya's article as saying, "The company has no role in conducting a Gram Sabha. It is the work of local administration authority like the Gram Panchayat."

However, S.K Dwivedi, Zonal Pollution Control Board officer, Singrauli says, "I have received this information from the villagers and a NGO. If the information about the forged signatures of deceased people is true, it calls for an investigation. If this is proven in the Gram Sabha documents, then the environmental clearance to Mahan Coal Block should be revoked." The details of the forgeries and irregularities have been public knowledge. The Union minister for tribal affairs, V Kishore Chandra Deo had even written a three page letter to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh detailing the gross violations of the Forest Rights Act with regard to Mahan.

Despite the controversy surrounding the clearance, company officials began the process of demarcating the forests 3-4 months back clearly attempting to hasten the process of axing Mahan. The May 7 midnight arrest of Greenpeace and MSS activists who were peacefully protesting only confirms the anxiety to shield the circumstances and irregularities surrounding Mahan's clearance.

Three of the activists were granted bail by the District court on May 9, 2014. However, Bechanlalji continues to be held in police custody. Peaceful protest is not a crime, and we will continue to demand his release.

Violation of the Forest Rights Act cannot be ignored. Greenpeace and MSS reiterate their demand for cancellation of the forest clearance given to Mahan. Arrests, intimidation and bullying tactics are not going to affect the campaign to save Mahan.

To read the Nai Duniya article, click on the link -