Mahan forests ‘inviolate’ – No Go for Coal Mining

New Delhi | February 24, 2015

India’s most controversial coal mine project may not go ahead, according to government documents acquired by Greenpeace through RTI.

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In an Office Memorandum of the Ministry of the Environment Forests and Climate Change – dated 22nd December 2014 and secured through an RTI request – it is clearly stated that even though the Mahan project has been accorded Stage II Forest Clearance, the Mahan block may not be put on auction as it falls in ‘inviolate forests’ and mining has not begun. This is the third time the Environment Ministry[1] has told the Coal Ministry to deny permission to mine Mahan.

If the recommendations are adhered to, the decision represents a huge victory for campaigners and the people of Mahan who say the Madhya Pradesh coal project would have impacted endangered wildlife, destroyed over 4 lakh trees, and livelihoods of over 50,000 people from various villages located in and around the forest.

Mahan RTI-MoEF

Mahan coal block falls within an inviolate area, out of bounds for mining.

One of those campaigners is Priya Pillai, was recently ‘offloaded’ from a London-bound flight because of her work on Mahan. Her case made headlines around the world. Today she said: “This is wonderful news for the people of Mahan who have been fighting to save the forests. It vindicates our stand that this is one of India’s oldest forests that should be protected from coal mining. If Mahan is inviolate, it also has implications for other blocks in the region like Chhatrasal and Dongrital which form the corridor between Sanjay Dubri Tiger reserve to Bagdara sanctuary. This once again proves that our campaign for Mahan and the rights of the people of Mahan is in national interest – environmentalism and human rights are not crimes.”

Kripanath Yadav, a resident of Amelia, and member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti[2](MSS) said, “We are overjoyed at hearing this news. Mahan forest is our very lifeline and this news makes us believe that we now have a real chance to protect and preserve our heritage and home. The government must now pay heed to our demands on forest rights.”

The ball is now in the Coal Ministry’s court which has to come clear on their position on MoEF’s recommendation. The block was allocated to a joint venture between Hindalco industries and Essar Power in 2006 and was to supply coal for 14 years to a power plant of Essar and aluminium project of Hindalco.

More than 1 million people have signed on to Greenpeace India’s Junglistan campaign and this is a milestone in the campaign to save the forests for all of us. Priya Pillai and Greenpeace India have been supporting tribal villages in the Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh opposed to the Mahan coal mine. The growing fight to stop the mine is believed to be the reason Pillai was singled out by the government as she was headed to the UK to brief British MPs on the issue.

For further reading

[1] Third time recommended by the MoEF:  Former environment minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh, who in a letter on Mahan (dated July 8, 2011 ) clearly gives reason why Mahan should not be cleared, the same was then upheld by the Forest Advisory Committee when they rejected forest clearance for mining  in Mahan.  When Jairam Ramesh was replaced by Jayanthi Natarajan, she granted Stage I forest Clearance to Mahan based on the recommendations of a GoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee. But while signing off, Natarajan observed that the only reason she granted Mahan the clearance was because of the investments in the region, which is under question as the Supreme Court had observed that huge investments could not be a ground for not scrapping the license. On September 24, 2012, while signing off the green nod, Natarajan wrote: “Despite reservations against the diversion of the dense forest land expressed strongly by the MoEF at the GoM, and the fact that the entire civil work and construction of the plant is already complete after procurement of environmental clearance — and resulting inter alia in huge exposure to nationalised banks — Forest Clearance may be granted to the Mahan Coal block.”

 [2] 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 organised themselves 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. The ministry under Mr Moily went ahead and awarded stage II forest clearance for Mahan in Feb 2014 without doing due diligence on the conditions prescribed. MSS then challenged the forest clearance at the National Green Tribunal and the case was set aside after the Supreme Court deemed the coal block allocation for 204 coal blocks as illegal in September 2014.

 

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