26 May 2014
Villagers from Mahan Oppose Marking of Trees in the Forest by the officials of Essar © Vinit Gupta / Greenpeace
On May 26, the Madhya Pradesh government committed to no tree felling in Mahan till October.
Needless to say, this decision does give temporary relief to the members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), who had filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal last week, challenging the forest clearance granted to Mahan coal block earlier in March this year.
Shares Hardayal Singh Gond of MSS and a petitioner in the case, "The state government's undertaking has given us temporary respite till October. But we are determined to save our forests and will continue to oppose any mining-related activities in our forest."
Further explains Gond, "We've been opposing this illegitimate mining proposal for over two years now. But despite our opposition, the UPA government went ahead with Stage II forest clearance. The mine tramples over the rights of over 50,000 people from over 54 villages." Yes, that's right. Over 50,000 people depend on these forests. What's equally sad is that this mine will require the felling of over 4 lakh trees.
The National Forest Policy of 1988 clearly states that the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes should be subject to very careful scrutiny, but in case of Mahan, there was no scrutiny. Says Priya Pillai, a petitioner and a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, "Felling of over 4 lakh trees has been dealt with in the most casual manner by the MoEF and the Group of Ministers, which recommended Stage I forest clearance to Mahan coal block. And the social and ecological impacts were ignored at every level."
Furthermore, "The Gram Sabha resolution based on which the Stage II (final stage) forest clearance was granted to the Mahan coal block contains forged signatures," says Gond. In fact, some of the signatures are of people who have been dead for years.
The Mahan forests are home to some 164 plant species including sal, saaja, mahua and tendu. Besides this one can find several threatened and rare species of animals such as leopard, sloth bear and hyena. The critically endangered vultures (White-rumped Gypsbengalensis and Indian Gyps Indicus and the Red-headed Sarcogyps Calvus) along with various other fast vanishing birds are a delight to the sight in this region.
Gond hopes that, "The National Green Tribunal is able to help us save our forests. We are sure that we will get justice in the end." I guess it's fair to say that this end is the beginning of something bigger.
The people of Mahan have been fighting for quite some time now. But the last few months have been the most challenging. Then again, the challenges have only made their resolve to save the Mahan forests stronger.
Show your support for Mahan's forests here: http://www.junglistan.org/