In an official reply to a Greenpeace India Right to Information request, the country’s Ministry of Coal confirmed that the Mahan forest, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, will be kept off limits, in line with recommendations from the Indian Environment Ministry.
Priya Pillai, the senior Greenpeace India campaigner who was offloaded from her flight to London in a related government travel ban that was struck down in court this month, said: “After being termed “anti-national” by sections of this government, it is refreshing to see them accepting what Greenpeace and MSS (Mahan communityMahan Sangharsh Samiti) have been saying for years: this is a fabulous forest, home to endangered species and crucial to the livelihoods of thousands, and that is why it needs protection.”
Speaking from Amelia village in the Mahan forest block, community member Bechanlal of the MSS said: “Celebrations started as soon as we heard the news! The government has finally accepted that this forest, which gives thousands of us so much, must not be destroyed for the profit of a few. We will continue to fight for the recognition of our community rights over the forest, so that we never again face such a threat to our livelihoods. This is not the end of our struggle; it is the start of a new phase.”
Ms Pillai had been due to brief British MPs on the threats to Mahan from London-based Essar Energy, which had hoped to mine the forest to supply coal for its nearby power plan, but will now not be able to.
However, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has recommended that only three blocks, Mahan, Marki Mangli II and Namchik-Namphuk be considered off limits to mining out of the 74 blocks in Schedule II and III of the coal ordinance. Government documents with Greenpeace show that other forests in the Mahan region have also been identified as very high quality forest.
Ms Pillai added: “Even as we celebrate this win for thousands of Indians, we are painfully aware that Mahan is just one of hundreds of coal mines planned in forested India. The Environment Ministry’s current criteriafor determining forests closed to mining is clearly inadequate, only serving the interests of mining corporations, ignoring the needs of the communities and wildlife that depend on our forests. The government must make public and open up for consultation the inviolate criteria, and then apply them equally across all blocks.”
In June 2014, the Intelligence Bureau had accused Greenpeace India of acting against national interests for, among other things, opposing mining in the Mahan coal block. This report was then used to block access to funds from Greenpeace International, a move that was overturned by the Delhi High Court in January 2015.
Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner, +91 9999357766,
Anindita Datta Choudhury, Communication Specialist, +9871515804,