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The Ministry of Coal confirmed in a Right to Information reply that the Mahan coal block will not be auctioned, pursuant to the MoEF’s recommendation that it be kept off limits to mining. The move comes as another blow to Essar Energy, which had hoped to mine the forest to supply coal for its nearby power plant.

“After being termed “anti-national” by sections of this government, it is refreshing to see them accepting what Greenpeace and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) have been saying for years – this is a fabulous forest, home to endangered species and crucial to the livelihoods of thousands, and that is why it needs protection”, said Priya Pillai, Greenpeace Campaigner.

06 June 2014The Mahan coal block would have destroyed more than 4 lakh trees and the livelihoods of more than 50,000 people. The Mahan coal block would have destroyed more than 4 lakh trees and the livelihoods of more than 50,000 people.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has recommended that only three blocks, Mahan, Marki Mangli II and Namchik-Namphuk be considered off limits to mining out of the 74 blocks in Schedule II and III of the coal ordinance. Government documents with Greenpeace show that other forests in the Mahan region have also been identified as very high quality forest.

Speaking from Amelia village in the Mahan forest block, Bechanlal of the MSS said, “Celebrations started as soon as we heard the news! The government has finally accepted that this forest, which gives thousands of us so much, must not be destroyed for the profit of a few. We will continue to fight for the recognition of our community rights over the forest, so that we never again face such a threat to our livelihoods. This is not the end of our struggle; it is the start of a new phase.”

Priya added, “Even as we celebrate this win for thousands of Indians, we are painfully aware that Mahan is just one of hundreds of coal mines planned in forested India. The MoEF’s current criteriafor determining forests closed to mining is clearly inadequate, only serving the interests of mining corporations, ignoring the needs of the communities and wildlife that depend on our forests. The government must make public and open up for consultation the inviolate criteria, and then apply them equally across all blocks.”

The news that Mahan will not be auctioned comes a week after the Delhi High Court ruled that the government had illegally prevented Priya Pillai from travelling to the UK to brief British Parliamentarians on the Mahan struggle, which was initially allocated to UK-registered Essar. In June 2014, the Intelligence Bureau had accused Greenpeace India of acting against national interests for, among other things, opposing mining in the Mahan coal block. This report was then used to block access to funds from Greenpeace International, a move that was overturned by the Delhi High Court in January 2015.