The call to rise for Mahan on May 18 received an unprecedented wave of support, that echoed not only in various corners of India but also around the world. Over 1500 volunteers from over 120 cities across the globe raised banners urging for the forests of Mahan to be saved.
The determination and strength of the supporters of this movement uniting in spirit with the people of Mahan has snowballed into a community of forest heroes. This show of strength was an effort to draw the attention of the new Indian government towards saving Mahan forests – where villagers have started an indefinite Van Satyagraha to save their forests from Essar and Hindalco’s proposed coal mine.
117 cities in India and 16 abroad took part in the solidarity events organised by Greenpeace India. Besides major cities in India and far flung places like Budgam in Jammu and Kashmir, Imphal in the north-east and Tirunelveli in south, enthusiastic volunteers from various cities in the USA, Canada, Greece, Czech Republic, Thailand, Philippines, Tunisia, Yemen, Slovakia and Nepal also took part in the global event. Volunteers staged photographs with messages like #IamMahan and #StandForForests along with placards reading the name of their cities.
“The solidarity events over 120 cities show Essar and the new government that the people of India want to preserve their forests and want justice for the thousands of people, who will be affected if the forests in Mahan are destroyed. Greenpeace India is humbled by this tremendous show of solidarity from across the globe,” says said Samit Aich, executive director, Greenpeace India.
Last week, 150 community members, lead by women peacefully confronted Essar officials and police carrying out ground work for the proposed coal mine, following which four activists were arrested and one assaulted in police custody. These activists were engaged in the Van Satyagraha, which has been intensifying ever since its launch in February this year. Three out of four activists have been granted bail so far.
Greenpeace and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) have approached the High Court in Jabalpur for the release of the fourth activist, Bechanlal Shah – member of MSS and a resident of Amelia village. Essar’s officials in Mahan have been threatening the villagers, who have been exposing the wrongdoings of the company.
Aich added that such bullying tactics do not frighten Greenpeace. “We will not stop exposing Essar’s violations in Mahan. The world is watching and their wrongdoings will be brought to justice.”
Anita Kushwaha, a member of MSS lauded the effort and said: “It gives us great courage when we see people from across the world standing in support for our fight against Essar. The overwhelming response that we have received from volunteers has only made us more determined in our fight to save Mahan. So many people’s hopes are attached with our fight and we cannot let it all go in vain. We will fight and we will win.”
The final stage forest clearance granted by Veerappa Moily – the former minister of environment and forests – in February this year tramples over the hopes and aspirations of over 50,000 forest dwellers from 54 villages, whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened by the proposed coal mine. Forged signatures in a Gram Sabha resolution passed on 6th March 2013 riddled with irregularities was the basis of this clearance. MSS repeatedly reported this discrepancy and the matter of the forged signatures to the collector and the Superintendent of Police in Singrauli district, but so far no FIR has been lodged. However, the collector has reportedly gone on record to say that he will look into the issue and even hold a fresh Gram Sabha if needed.
Greenpeace India and hundreds of our volunteers from around the world demand that the new government should reconsider the stage II forest clearance to Mahan coal block and conduct a thorough investigation. Until then, the environmental clearance given to Mahan should be considered null and void.