The World is Mahan: Global support pours in as Van Satyagraha in Mahan intensifies

Press release - May 18, 2014
Volunteers defy national borders in a show of support to save Mahan forests in Singrauli; 133 cities join hands to save Mahan

May 18, 2014 In an unprecedented show of support, over 1500 volunteers from 133 cities across the globe turned Van Satyagrahis today, as they raised a banner to save forests of Mahan in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. This was a sincere 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.
The volunteers were a part of the solidarity events organised by Greenpeace India in 117 cities in India and 16 abroad.  Besides the major cities in India from almost all the states, 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.  “I might live miles away from Mahan but I can feel the pain of the people there. They stand to lose everything to line up the pockets of a few billionaire corporations. Youngsters like us should stand together and join their fight to save Mahan,” said Iftikaar Llobding from a remote corner of India in Leh.  
“The solidarity events in close to 133 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, led by women peacefully confronted Essar officials and police from 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 Samiti1 (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 pressurising 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 of 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.
The basis of this clearance is a forged Gram Sabha resolution passed on 6th March 2013. The community members have gathered evidence through RTI that suggests that several signatures in the resolution were forged. It even contains signatures of people who died years ago. MSS has been repeatedly raising the issue of the forged Gram Sabha with 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 decision should be considered null and void.

For further information:
[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 organisedthemselves under the banner of MSS to assert their forest rights and have been opposing the proposed mine of Mahan Coal ltd (a joint venture of 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 18, 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 forests in the region.

Jagori Dhar, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-981 120 0481; jagori.  
Anindita Datta Choudhury, Senior Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-987 151 5804;
Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Media Officer, Greenpeace India:+91-835 982 6363; 
Pari Trivedi, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91-987 349 5994;