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For most of the wild things on earth, the future must depend on the conscience of mankind.- Dr. Archie Carr

Peaceful Forest Protest in India. © Udit kulshrestha

Group of male protesters in a positive mood. Local people from around 14 villages in the Mahan region of Singrauli, including a large number of women and children come together for a mass public rally in Amelia Village to oppose mining in Mahan’s forests. The rally marks the beginning of a Van Satyagraha (Forest Protest).  © Udit kulshrestha

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to scrap 214 coal block allocations, including Essar and Hindalco’s Mahan Coal block is a victory for the environment and people of India against the corruption and irregularities rife in the coal sector.

The judgment signifies a new turn in the energy industry in India and will have serious consequences for the new government’s excessive reliance on coal power as the engine of economic growth. The forests of Mahan get a reprieve with the SC order today because Essar and Hindalco’s allocation was cancelled on the grounds of illegality. The court’s ruling will also spell the end of cheap coal in India.

“This landmark decision is a wake-up call for the Modi government that came to power on an anti-corruption and economic growth agenda. Today’s ruling calls the bluff on coal’s dirty secret and should signal the end of complicity between the state and corporate players. It’s a strong message from the highest court in the country to the government and industry that the laws of the land cannot be circumvented and disregarded. The government has a stark choice —whether to develop a pro-people, pro-green economic model, or stick with corrupt, expensive, dirty energy,” said Vinuta Gopal, Climate and Energy campaigner of Greenpeace India.

Forest communities in Madhya Pradesh and Greenpeace are jubilant as the Court ruled that the Mahan coal block be cancelled due to the arbitrary manner in which it was granted. Mahan Sangharsh Samiti and Greenpeace have been engaged in a long battle with the company over the proposed open cast coal mine, which would involve the destruction of half a million trees, rob over 50,000 people from 54 villages of their livelihoods, and destroy rich, bio-diverse habitat.

“Mahan forests are one of the richest Sal forests in the country. Mining in Mahan would mean loss of livelihoods and rich biodiversity. The government should review the criteria on which coal blocks are allocated and spare the blocks in the forest areas,” said Gopal.

Activists welcomed the new criteria proposed by the court. However, they added that the process of allocations is just the tip of the corruption rampant in the sector. The new process of coal block allocations must adhere to environmental laws and the Forest Rights Act. The verdict comes on the eve of one of Modi’s ambitious projects – Make in India – which is touted as an investment booster for India. The NDA government has given enough clues about speedy re-allocations and easing of environment norms.

The government must refrain from taking dangerous short cuts to achieve a double digit growth figure at the cost of India’s rich biodiversity and people’s rights. The government must not sway from its promise of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas by lining the pockets of a selected few corporates and return to the vicious cycle of crony capitalism, as is clear by the SC verdict today.