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National Green Tribunal refuses forest clearance to industry groups Essar, Hindalco, tribals celebrate "victory"

A rally in Mahan protesting against forest land allocation
By Our Representative
In a major ruling, National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s quasi-judicial environmental watchdog with powers of a High Court, has declared that the forest clearance granted to Essar and Hindalco’s Mahan Coal Ltd are invalid. This follows the Supreme Court order to de-allocate 214 coal blocks. The NGT’s decision is in response to a petition filed by members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), a people’s organisaion, which challenged the coal mine’s forest clearance. According to Greenpeace India’s estimate, 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 of Mahan forests in Madhya Pradesh.
Significantly, 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.
In a statement, Greenpeace said, “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.”
“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,” Greenpeace quoted Kripanath Yadav, a resident of Amelia village and a member of MSS.
“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,” said Priya Pillai, member of MSS and senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.
While the Government of India has said it will move fast to auction the cancelled blocks, MSS and Greenpeace India have demand that it should immediately work for “revising the criteria for allocation of coal mines to exclude forest areas like Mahan, adding, they want shoddy implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the region to stop.
“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”, Greenpeace said, adding, “Under the FRA community forest rights must be recognized before consent is sought for any mining or infrastructure project.”
In the meantime, communities in five villages in the Mahan forest area have now filed community forest rights claims. “Their rights have not yet been recognised. The local administration has failed miserably in the implementation of FRA,” Pillai said, adding, 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.
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.

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