Jabalpur HC pulls up Singrauli SP for not Taking Action on Forged Gram Sabha Complaint

Conduct an enquiry within seven days; file an FIR if cognizable offence is revealed: HC tells SP

Press release - July 16, 2014
Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, July 15, 2014: The Jabalpur High Court has pulled up the Superintendent of Police of Singrauli for not taking action on the complaint filed by the villagers on the forged Gram Sabha resolution of March 6, 2013. Acting on a writ petition filed by Mahan Sangharsh Samiti[1] (MSS) member and Greenpeace Activist, Priya Pillai, the Jabalpur High Court passed an order directing the Singrauli SP to conduct an inquiry within seven days and communicate the outcome to the petitioner in the next 30 days.

Members of MSS today personally delivered a copy of the court order to the SP to ensure that the order has reached the right people.

"The SP now has seven days to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the issue. If the enquiry reveals a cognizable offence, an FIR should be filed and necessary action should be taken against the thana-in-charge of Maada police station, who refused to register an FIR despite repeated attempts. If no cognizable offence is found, we should be given an answer in writing within the next 30 days," says Priya Pillai.

Earlier in May this year, four activists from MSS and Greenpeace were arrested for peacefully opposing the marking of trees. "While the police dragged their feet in filing an FIR on the forged Gram Sabha resolution, they made no delay in arresting forest rights activists for peacefully trying to save Mahan forests," says Pillai.

This move comes as a silver lining for the community members of Mahan region and a bane for Essar's proposed coal mine in the forests of Mahan. "The Jabalpur High Court's order is a big blow to Essar's plans of mining in Mahan forests. In case an FIR is filed, it could mean that a fresh Gram Sabha could be conducted to decide the fate of mining in Mahan forests," says Pillai, campaigner, Greenpeace India.

The Gram Sabha resolution in question is a forged document that was created to give a go-ahead to the mine in Mahan forests. On March 6, 2013, a special Gram Sabha was held on Forest Rights Act to give a go-ahead to the mine. Though the Gram Sabha was attended by only 182 people, a copy of the resolution acquired through Right to Information (RTI) has 1,125 signatures. The villagers have evidence that most of the signatures in the resolution have been forged. The document even contains names of people, who have been dead for a long time. On February 12, 2014, Veerappa Moily-led environment ministry granted the stage II forest clearance on the basis of this doctored document. Following this, MSS began a peaceful Van Sataygraha and declared the clearance null and void.

"For the past couple of months we have been urging the authorities to lodge an FIR for this case, but to no avail," says Hiramani Singh Gond, member of MSS and resident of Amelia village. "This forged Gram Sabha resolution has given a free ticket to the officials from Essar and forest department to enter our forests and mark trees which need to be felled to clear the way for the mine. All this has to stop, till a thorough investigation is conducted into the forged resolution," he adds.

The district collector of Singrauli had earlier gone on record saying that a fresh Gram Sabha on FRA would be conducted if he finds any discrepancy in the March 6 Gram Sabha resolution. "Several months have passed since he said this and we still do not know the outcomes of the enquiry or the action the district collector has taken," says Pillai.

"Members of civil society, such as Ashish Kothari and Ramesh Agrawal, have written to the Tribal Minister and the district collector of Singrauli expressing concern over the way the Forest Rights Act is being implemented and urged them to ensure that a free and fair Gram Sabha is conducted the second time around," says Pillai.

Greenpeace India welcomes the Jabalpur High Court's order and demands that the local police in Singrauli should file the FIR after a fair enquiry into the matter, and necessary action should be taken against the thana in-charge of Maada, who failed to do his duty.

[1] About Mahan Sangharsh Samiti: There are 54 villages dependant on the Mahan forests of Singrauli. Community members from five villages (Amelia, Bandhaura, Budher,Suhira and Barwantola) in the Mahan forests have organized themselves under the banner of MSS to assert their forest rights and have been opposing the proposed Mahan coal mine (by Essar and Hindalco). After a public meeting in August 2013, six more villages joined the movement, further strengthening MSS.

The Mahan coal block was initially rejected by former Environment Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh. However, it was granted in-principal (Stage I) approval by the MoEF on October 30, 2012, after substantial pressure from the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Coal Mining. This approval came with 36 conditions, which require a range of studies to be completed and the processes under the Forest Rights Act to be complied with.

Mining will destroy the livelihoods of over 50,000 people. Mining in Mahan would mean opening doors for other coal blocks like Chatrasal awaiting approvals in the Mahan forests, which will further fragment the entire forest in the region.

For further information, please contact:

Anindita Datta Choudhury, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-9871515804;

Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91 8359826363;

Pari Trivedi, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-9873495994;