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The festivities began as the villagers offered their prayers to Deeh Baba –their village deity. As scores of villagers made their way to the meeting, the venue echoed with traditional folk songs about the forests and how the lives of the forest communities were dependant on them.
“This day has arrived after several hardships and struggle. Forest rights activists have been jailed, threatened and bullied, whenever they raised their voice to save the forests of Mahan. It is due to our efforts that the government has agreed not to auction Mahan for mining. We now urge the administrative authorities to recognize our Community Forest Rights claim under the Forest Rights Act,” says Kripanath Yadav, resident of Amelia and member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS).
While the government has decided to spare Mahan, there are other coal blocks in the region which are still under threat. “The victory of the people of Mahan is a victory of democracy. But there are several other challenges that the people of this country face. The proposed Land Acquisition Amendments Bill, which was passed earlier this month, threatens to displace several other village communities in the name of development. At a time like this, the struggle of Mahan stands out as a force to reckon with. After Niyamgiri, the people’s movement in Mahan has proved that such struggles cannot be ignored anymore. The fight in Mahan has become a source of inspiration for several similar social movements,” says Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, who recently won a landmark judgement in the Delhi High Court which recognized the right to free speech. She had challenged the government’s action of offloading her from a London-bound flight when she was on her way to talk to British MPs about the human and forest rights violations in Mahan by London –registered company Essar.
Pillai further added: “The proposed Land Acquisition Amendments Bill has completely diluted the clause that talked about the consent of the landowners—an act that is clearly anti-people and pro-corporations. This has created a furor among people across the country.”
As a symbol of protest, MSS activists tore the proposed Land Acquisition Amendments Bill, buried it, and planted a Mahua sapling on top marking the triumph of people.