MP villagers start Van Satyagrah
Thousands of villagers including a large number of women and children from 12-14 villages in the Mahan region of Singrauli came together for a mass public rally in Amelia Village to oppose mining in Mahan forests. The rally marks the beginning of a Van Satyagraha.
The rally in Amelia village comes days after Environment Minister Veerappa Moily granted Stage II forest clearance to Mahan coal block, allocated to Mahan Coal Ltd -a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco. The villagers declared this clearance, null and void.
They presented evidence that the special Gram Sabha resolution on Forest Rights Act -based on which, the Stage II forest clearance has been given - was forged.
The in-principal Stage I clearance was granted to Mahan coal block in 2012 with 36 conditions, which included implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA). This involved holding free and fair Gram Sabhas in villages that would then decide on whether they want a mine or not.
On 6 March 2013, a special Gram Sabha on FRA was conducted in Amelia village in Mahan region. Though 184 people attended the Gram Sabha, the resolution has 1,125, signatures - villagers say that most of them have been forged. Nine of the signatories have been dead for years. Nine of the signatories have been dead for three years.
Besides this 27 residents of Amelia have given written testimonies that they were not present during the Gram Sabha.
Jag Narayan Shah, member of MSS filed a police complaint on the forged Gram Sabha resolution after successive attempts to engage the collector and the Minister of Tribal Affairs on this issue.
"Despite receiving threats on our life and our reputation from opposing forces, we are determined to lodge the FIR and take this to a logical end to challenge the validity of the Gram Sabha and the subsequent forest clearance," said Jag Narayan Shah, addressing the rally. Members of MSS and their growing number of supporters have been vehemently opposing the mine.
Mining in the block would destroy the forests, which is home to several endangered species of animals and 164 species of plants.
The growing on-ground resistance in the Mahan forests has found a large support base.
"The movement has over a million supporters across India, who lent their support through social media and other platforms. The movement is also being supported by leaders of various people's movements including the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Aadivasi Mukti Sanghatan and Chattisgharh Bachao Andolan. This union of urban and rural India is unprecedented. Essar has a fight on their hands," said Priya Pillai, member of MSS and senior Greenpeace Campaigner.
On January 22, 2014, members of MSS were joined by urban youngsters at a protest outside Essar headquarters in Mumbai. While members of MSS staged a dharna in front of the building, Greepeace activists draped Essar's building with a banner that announced to the world what Essar did to forests.
Following the protest, MSS and Greenpeace were slapped with a Rs-500-crore defamation suit by Essar along with a gag order.
"After witnessing the support from our brothers and sisters in the cities we would like to invite them to to come with us as we defend our forest and face Essar's onslaught with non violent resistance," said Gond.
Addressing the rally, social activist, Shamim Modi said: "The power of common man and the sheer will to resist any kind of injustice is the strength of this fight. People have to be united to win this fight. In our country, all policies are being decided by money power. It is because of such forces that projects like Mahan are getting clearances. We need leaders who can raise their voice against these people."
There is evidence that Mahan coal block was allocated in the most non-transparent manner. Even Moily's predecessors have opposed mining in Mahan.
But despite this, an inter-ministerial group (IMG) that was looking into de-allocation of coal blocks that have not commenced mining however gave a clean chit to Mahan coal block, based on the Stage II clearance on February 25, 2014.
MSS demands that the Stage II clearance should be revoked with immediate effect. The Van Satyagraha will continue until the decision to mine in the forests is rolled back.
(Posted on 27-02-2014)