Van Satyagrahis arrested, beaten in Mahan, MP

Van Satyagraha intensifies as over 150 villagers join protest against Essar mine, following the midnight arrest of two MSS members and two Greenpeace activists

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Press release - May 8, 2014
May 8, Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh: Over 150 villagers including women moved into the Mahan forests today to protect it from being marked for destruction by an Essar-led coal mine, even as their fellow satyagrahis were arrested by the local police at midnight from Greenpeace's office last night. The four have been roughed up by the police, denied bail and taken into judicial custody for trying to protect the Mahan forest from coal mining for corporate profit.

"These dirty tactics do not scare us. We are deeply motivated by our brothers and sisters who have fought in various other movements. We are ready to go through arrest, physical abuse or any kind of torture they subject us to. We will not leave the forests and we will get justice in the end. Our fight will not go in vain," said Hardayal Singh, member of MSS and a resident of Amelia village.

The four satyagrahis were arrested in the middle of the night and slapped with charges of robbery, assaulting a government servant and obstructing government work. One of the Greenpeace activists reports that he was beaten up by the police when he refused to sign a confession. These protestors were engaged in the growing Van Satyagraha, which began in February this year. They have been denied bail and have been taken into judicial custody in Waidhan.

Samit Aich, Executive Director, Greenpeace India said: "We are moved by the commitment of the community members and are now even more determined to expose Essar's wrongdoings in Mahan. These are bullying tactics to sully our reputation and stop our work of empowering communities in Mahan. It is a desperate bid by the company to trample any opposition against their coal mine project."

These harsh arrests took place within 48 hours of a protest on Monday, when members of MSS, which included several women, confronted the Essar officials and asked them to stop marking trees. The two Greenpeace activists, Akshay Gupta and Vineet Gupta, who have been arrested, were only documenting the incident on camera.

"Why were people, who were only documenting the protest arrested? Is Essar scared that their illegitimate actions will be exposed? It all points to the fact that the company is ready to go to any extent to stop the communities from peacefully protesting for their rights," says Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace.

The arrests have been carried out rapidly while violations related to the mine have been ignored. "This is very uncharacteristic of the local police. They have never been this swift. Members of MSS have been raising the issue of the forged Gram Sabha for over two months, but the police have done nothing about it. No FIR has been filed despite following up with the Superintendent of Police," she added.

In February this year, following the second stage forest clearance (final stage clearance) to Mahan, Jag Narayan Shah, member of MSS had filed a police complaint regarding the forged Gram Sabha Resolution of March 6, 2013, based on which the clearance was given. At a massive public rally, the people from over 14 villages began their Van Satyagraha and declared the clearance null and void. The collector reportedly went on record to say that he will look into the issue and even hold a fresh Gram Sabha to resolve the issue.

The Van Satyagraha has been growing stronger as several young volunteers from urban areas have joined villagers in their fight. Last month, the volunteers lived in the forests for 15 days helping community members collect Mahua flowers – a non-timber forest produce that is the main source of livelihood for many people.

Greenpeace and MSS will not be bogged down by these cheap attempts. Their demand of rolling back the forest clearance remains unchanged.

For further reading:

[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 organised themselves 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 villagers. These people depend on Mahan forests for Non-Timber Forest Produce. 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.

Photographs of the arrested activists can be downloaded from this link:

Countering Coal –a discussion paper by Kalpavriksha and Greenpeace:


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

Jagori Dhar, Media manager, Greenpeace India: +91 9811200481;

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

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