The tree in question is located in the buffer zone of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve and the view from Brikesh’s tree house is that of a coal mine and thermal power plant on one hand and the beautiful Tadoba forests on the other. A stark contrast, but that’s the reality in many of the forests in Central India. Just like our forests this very tree’s future is uncertain simply because of the coal reserves underneath it. While the Tadoba Tiger Reserve is home to about 74 tigers, six coal mines are already operational around the reserve and six more have been allocated.
31 August 2012
Tigers in the Tadoba region
© Harshad Barve / Greenpeace
As Brikesh keeps his eyes peeled for animal sightings, especially the elusive tiger, let’s take a look at what Brikesh seeks to achieve. He is demanding that the government places an immediate moratorium on clearances for coal mining in forests and the exclusion of all wildlife corridors and areas inhabited by endangered species from existing coalfields. It is an urgent need to clearly demarcate forest areas that are completely closed to mining if we are to protect the last remaining natural spaces in our country.
Greenpeace started a petition addressed to the Prime Minister on 19th July 2012 asking him to save our forests from coal mining. Over 50,000 people have already signed this petition and Brikesh’s objective, as soon as he leaves his tree house, is to deliver it to the PM at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that India is hosting in Hyderabad in October.
He says, “It is ironical that my government, which is writing off forests in Central India for coal mining, is playing host to one of the largest gatherings on biodiversity, while completely disregarding the rights of forest communities and the importance of this habitat for the country. We can protect the forests and still have energy to power the country. We need a commitment from the Prime Minister that forests will not be handed over to the mining lobby till this criterion is debated and put in place.”
The petition also asks the Prime Minister to stop all new coal block allocations and clearances to mine in forests until the huge coal scam in India is thoroughly investigated. The recent CAG coal report which shocked the nation must be a reminder to all of us that corruption is not restricted to affecting only humans. Between 2006 and 2009 the Coal Ministry, then headed by the Prime Minister, allocated coal blocks without an auction to private and state-run firms at throw-away prices costing the taxpayer Rs 1.86 lakh crore.
There are only 1,700 tigers left in the wild in India. Of these, about 35 % live in the forests of Central India. A recent Greenpeace India report- ‘How Coal Mining is Trashing Tigerland'- determined that coal mining threatens over 1.1 million hectares of forest in just 13 coalfields in Central India. That’s almost twice the area of India's top five metros combined. Of the 1.1 million hectares of forest at risk, over 185,000 hectares are inhabited by tigers, over 270,000 hectares by leopards and over 55,000 hectares by elephants. The future of all these animals and other wildlife in these forests looks very grim considering that the Planning Commission projects a colossal 250 % increase in domestic coal consumption by 2031-32.
In the midst of the political upheaval caused by the CAG coal report, can a lone man living on a tree in the forest make a difference? Well, that’s upto all of us. If people all over the country are aware of the destruction happening to the natural world and they raise their voices to protect the forests and wildlife, a lot can happen.
Millions of voices cannot be ignored, irrespective of the political party in power. Let’s be united and pledge to give our forests and wildlife a chance they so desperately need. With a little help, our magnificent forests and all life that depends on them can be protected, be it the endangered tiger, leopards, elephants, or forest dwellers.
Let’s be the watchdog of our government and not let them destroy nature and deceive us in the name of energy requirements. As Brikesh protests against forest destruction from a tree in Chandrapur, we can all sign the petition at www.junglistan.org/home and show our support. When the Prime Minister holds a petition from lakhs of Indians asking him to preserve our forests and wildlife for future generations, he just cannot overlook it.