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“…It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy

Pledges to Save Mahan Forest at Raksha Bandhan Festival in India. © Avik Roy

Villagers participate at the protest in huge number.
In a pledge to save the Mahan forests of Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, from coal mining, people from across 10 cities, including Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, sent over 8,900 rakhis (sacred threads) to the forest dwelling communities of Mahan forests. Over 1,000 community members including a large number of women and children from about 24 villages of the region braved heavy rains and tied the rakhis to a giant Mahua tree in Mahan forests on Sunday. These Rakhis were made by 98 volunteers from across 10 cities in India. © Avik Roy

The people of Mahan have been vindicated. Their stand against the injustice perpetuated in the allocation of Mahan coal block validated. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today said the forest clearance granted to Essar and Hindalco’s Mahan Coal Ltd is invalid following the SC decision to de-allocate 214 coal blocks.

The NGT’s decision has injected a new vigour in the forest dwellers who have been opposing the project for the last three years. To celebrate the landmark verdict, thousands of villagers in the region came together in a rally, vowed that they would not let the Mahan forests that they depend on fall into the clutches of coal mining again.

The NGT’s decision was in response to a petition filed by members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) which challenged the forest clearance given to the proposed coal mine. The project would have led to the loss of approximately 5 lakh trees and affected the livelihoods of over 50,000 people in 54 villages.

“We welcome the NGT’s view on the forest clearance. Battling threats, illegal arrests and midnight police raids, we have come a long way. We know this might only be a temporary win, but our struggle will continue and we will oppose any future attempts to hand over these forests for mining,” says Kripanath Yadav, resident of Amelia village and a member of MSS.

MSS and Greenpeace have highlighted the shoddy implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the region. While there are 54 villages dependant on the Mahan forests, community consent was sought from just one village – Amelia. The Gram Sabha resolution showing community consent was forged, with at least nine of the signatories having been deceased at that time of the meeting.

Under the Forest Rights Act, community forest rights must be recognized before consent is sought for any mining or infrastructure project. “Communities in five villages in the Mahan forest area have now filed community forest rights claims. However, their rights have not yet been recognised. The local administration has failed miserably in the implementation of FRA,” says Priya Pillai, member of MSS and senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.

Speaking about the implications of the NGT and SC decisions, Pillai says, “Mahan is a perfect example of the growing opposition from communities to mining projects that destroy their forests. Companies would be foolhardy to risk their money bidding for a forested coal block where opposition to mining will be intense. This is also a vindication of the work Greenpeace has been doing – the ‘leaked’ IB report faulted us for demanding the forest rights of communities in Mahan, but the courts have shown that we were on the side of justice.”

The government has said it will move fast to auction the cancelled blocks. MSS and Greenpeace India demand that the government should revise the criteria for allocation of coal mines to exclude forest areas like Mahan. Greenpeace India has also joined other civil society voices in calling on the government to maintain the integrity of the country’s environment and rights laws. In a bid to speed up clearances for big ticket mining and infrastructure projects, the government must not violate Acts such as the Forest Conservation Act, Environment Protection Act and Forest Rights Act.