July 29, 2014, Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh: A Greenpeace mobile phone signal booster was confiscated by local police today, along with other communication equipment in Amelia village in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh. This comes just days after the district collector promised a free and fair Gram Sabha on community consent for Essar and Hindalco’s mine, to replace a forged resolution last year.

“How can we trust the promises of a fair Gram Sabha, when the police cut off communication from the rest of the world, and hold the process behind a curtain?” says Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India and member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti[1] (MSS).

After the arrest of four peaceful Van Satyagrahis in May, this is the second glaring instance of the growing police excesses to clamp down on the protest against Essar and Hindalco’s proposed coal mining project in the forests of Mahan. “Like the recent ‘leaked’ IB report that attacked civil society groups like Greenpeace, this move further shows that authorities are clamping down on perceived threats to corporate interests,” Pillai adds. Essar itself has filed two lawsuits – in Mumbai and Waidhan, MP – asking the courts to stop Greenpeace and the local communities speaking out against the mine project.

“This is a clear example of how the local police are trying to harass peaceful forest rights activists. We were sent a notice by the police yesterday evening asking us about the mobile booster and the solar panels we had put up in Amelia village. But instead of giving us a chance to respond to the notice, the police shockingly came this morning, confiscating all our basic equipment, which is essential to operate in areas like Mahan which have virtually no electricity and low mobile connectivity,” adds Pillai.

This raid comes less than a month after the Jabalpur High Court directed the SP of Singrauli to conduct an inquiry as to why an FIR was not filed on forged Gram Sabha complaint. The court had acted on a writ petition filed by Pillai and issued an order on June 30, asking the SP to conduct an inquiry within seven days and file an FIR if a cognizable offence is found. The petitioner is to be informed in written about the outcome of the inquiry.

“This sudden raid raises rather disturbing questions. Is this raid in reaction to our writ petition in the High Court? Why are the local police trying their best to stop the community of Mahan from communicating with the rest of the world,” says Hardayal Singh Gond of resident of Amelia village and member of MSS and adds, “The police had been dragging their feet in filing the FIR for the forged Gram Sabha case [2]. But when it came to seizing communication equipment or arresting our activists, they wasted no time.”

MSS and Greenpeace India demand an explanation for the action taken by the police and declare that such acts do not deter them from carrying on their peaceful Van Stayagraha to save the forests of Mahan from the coal mine.

[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.

MSS filed a complaint on the case, but the police did not file an FIR despite repeated attempts. Finally on June 30, acting on a writ petition filed by Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai the Jabalpur High Court passed an order directing the Singrauli SP to conduct an inquiry into the issue within seven days and communicate the outcome to the petitioner in the next 30 days for not taking any action on a forged Gram Sabha complaint.

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