MSS formed in Singrauli to protect forests & rights of forest communities

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Feature story - March 26, 2013
There have been changes brewing in Mahan, Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh. For the first time last month local people from five villages formed a committee of sorts to protect their land and the forests from coal mining companies like Mahan Coal Limited. On March 22, this jan sangathan (people’s organisation) called Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), conducted their first activity together as a group. They performed a pooja to Dih Baba - the forest God of Mahan. The pooja is symbolic of the belief the community has in the forest deity to protect them and provide for their livelihood. It also heralds the beginning of the mahua and tendu collection season in the forest.


26 March 2013

The MSS performed the pooja to Dih Baba for the first time together on March 22, 2013. © Greenpeace


Singrauli is not an isolated case. Forests all across Central India are under threat of destruction due to coal mining. A study released by Greenpeace India in 2012 determined that coal mining threatens over 1.1 million hectares of forest in just 13 coalfields, out of over 40 in Central India. Astoundingly, that’s an area almost twice the size of India's top five metros combined!

Forest dwellers, tigers and other wildlife in this region will suffer unless there is a complete ban on new mines in forests. Ashish Fernandes, Senior Campaigner with Greenpeace says, “The Greenpeace study focused on coal mining’s impact on mega fauna, but the loss of forests is also going to hit the communities dependent on them hard. The era of cheap coal is over – across India, from mine to power plant, communities are questioning coal as a source of electricity and asking for sustainable alternatives.”

In July 2012, Greenpeace India created a petition asking the Prime Minister to stop all new coal block allocations and forest clearances for coal mining in Central Indian forests. Over 9,00,000 people have signed this petition and supported this cause so far. For more information on this campaign visit,

While Greenpeace has been campaigning over the last three years to save our forests in Central India it is inspiring to have local communities organising themselves in this fight. The forest dependent communities in Singrauli can no longer collect non-timber forest produce like they used to and they are given peanuts as compensation to leave the land and forgo their way of life. They are forced to live in concrete boxes where the ground beneath them shakes at least two times a day when there is a blast at the nearby coal mine.


26 March 2013

Festivities part of the pooja to Dih Baba - the forest God of Mahan. © Greenpeace

The Mahan forests have not yet been destroyed and the lush canopy of trees still harbours significant biodiversity. But beneath this forest lie 14 years worth of coal reserves – the area was allocated to Mahan Coal Ltd, a joint venture between Essar Energy and Hindalco in 2006. The block received first stage clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest in October 2012. The MoEF has put down 36 conditions that have to be fulfilled by the Essar group before they get the final clearance to begin mining.

Among these conditions is the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The act recognises the rights of forest communities to the forest they depend on for their livelihood, and requires their consent before any diversion for industrial use. But these rights have not been upheld or implemented.

Like Priya Pillai, Policy Advisor with Greenpeace India says, “There are gross violations in the implementation of the Forests Rights Act, especially community forest rights, in the Mahan region. There has not been a single community forest right recognised in any of the 62 villages dependent on these forests, which has a sizeable tribal population. On March 6 there was a concerted effort by the local administration (including the Tehsildar, Patwari , Sarpanch etc) to push through a forged gram sabha resolution on the status of forest rights in Amelia village, which is an effort to sabotage the process of implementation of FRA. Mahan Sangharsh Samiti and village elders on the other hand are in the process of mapping their forest resources to file a community forest right claim.”


26 March 2013

The MSS's first meeting on March 3, 2013. © Greenpeace


But there is light at the end of the tunnel. As we have seen with the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti, forest communities are recognising their rights and forming groups to challenge the authority and practices of large mining companies. The very first meeting of the sangathan earlier this month saw 170 people attend. Greenpeace supports this people’s organisation and will work alongside them to protect the forest and the rights of indigenous communities. To help protect our forests and safeguard the rights of forest dwellers, sign the petition at

-Ignatius Thekaekara