Wake up call for Singrauli administrators

File FIR on the forged Gram Sabha resolution; free Bechanlal & stop framing activists in false cases, demand civil society members in unison

Press release - May 19, 2014
Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, May 19, 2014: The unjust and step-motherly treatment meted out towards forest rights activists by Singrauli's administration and police is totally unacceptable, declared members of civil society, who joined Van Satyagrahis of Mahan for a peaceful protest at the dharna sthal outside the collectors office in Waidhan, Singrauli today.

Condemning the ruthless manner in which the local police arrested four forest rights activists from Greenpeace and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti[1] two weeks ago, the civil society members said that the police cannot get away with this kind of high-handed attitude. They demanded that the police should set Bechan Lal Shah free. Shah, a member of MSS and resident of Amelia village, was one of the four activists, who was jailed for trying to save Mahan forests and was denied bail. Besides this, they also demanded that the police should file against the forged Gram Sabha Resolution[2], based on which the stage II forest clearance was granted to Mahan Coal Block (allocated to Essar Power and Hindalco Industries) in February this year.

Vijay Shankar Singh, an active MSS member from Amelia village who was jailed recently said, "These tactics of falsely implicating us in cases does not scare us or deter us from continuing our fight. Such attacks make us only more determined to fight for our rights. We demand that Bechanlalji, be released immediately and the FIR on the Gram Sabha forgery case be lodged."

While a group of activists stayed back in the forests, guarding it against any kind of mining activity, villagers travelled to Waidhan to knock the doors of the local administrators. The peaceful dharna saw the participation of organizations such as,Mayur Sanghatan, Kisan Aadivasi Visthapit Ekta Manch, Sarvhit Seva Sansthan, Amrita Seva Sansthan, and Suvidha Seva Sansthan. These organizations united against the police excesses that have been going on in Singrauli for a long time now. There have been several instances that prove that the common man in Singrauli is fed up of the way the local police are functioning.

Speaking up for the rights of the people of Mahan, Ekta Singh, a member of Kisan Adivasi Visthapit Ekta Manch said, "The administration was meant to serve people, but with industrialization, it has opted to serve the capitalists instead. In the name of development, the administrative authorities actually help corporate companies trample over the rights of tribal families and other indigenous communities. It is very unfortunate but such incidents of police excesses point towards collusion between the local administration, police and officials of big corporate companies. Words like justice, peace, equality and liberty have lost their value."

The state administration has been dragging its feet on the successive complaints of MSS members about the forged Gram Sabha resolution, based on which the central government has granted the final stage forest clearance to Mahan Coal Block. However, the police made no delay in arresting four Van Satyagrahis from their sleep in a midnight raid earlier this month. While three of the four Satyagrahis were released on bail after a 40-hour ordeal with the police, one of them, Bechanlal Shah, a member of MSS and resident of Amelia village continues to languish in jail.

"The way in which MSS members were arrested on May 8 earlier this month, clearly shows that the police and the administration are using state power to crush the movement against Mahan coal limited. We have been trying to file an FIR against the forged Gram Sabha for the past three months, to which the authorities have turned a deaf ear. But surprisingly, it took them only a day to falsely implicate activists and harass them. This kind of high-handedness by the Madhya Pradesh police is totally unacceptable," says Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.

Representing MSS, residents of Amelia, Ujraj Singh Khairawar, Hiramani Singh Gond along with Priya Pillai have filed a complaint about the forged Gram Sabha resolution in both Mada Thana as well as with the Superintendent of Police. But no action has been taken so far. The collector however has reportedly said that he will look into the matter and even conduct a fresh Gram Sabha if required.

The civil society members demanded that the SP must register the FIR against the forged Gram Sabha resolution and free Bechanlal Shah. Besides this, they made it loud and clear that the police cannot get away with framing peaceful social activists. The peaceful Van Satyagraha in the forests would continue till the final stage forest clearance is rolled back.

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 organisedthemselves 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 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.

[2] Gram Sabha Resolution of March 6, 2013: This special Gram Sabha on Forest Rights Act was held on March 6, 2013 to give a go-ahead to the mine. Though the Gram Sabha was attended by 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.


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, Greenpeace India: +91-9873495994;