Essar, Hindalco’s Mahan coal block: Lobbying for 3 yrs, Greenpeace claims clearance given under pressure

Bhopal | Updated: January 13, 2015 8:59 AM

Mahan was among the coal blocks de-allocated by the Supreme Court last year.

From holding protests, educating villagers about their rights under the Forest Rights Act and taking on corporates, Greenpeace — whose senior campaigner Priya Pillai was not allowed to fly to London on Sunday — has been very active in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh for last three years.

Greenpeace has set up an office at Baidhan to campaign against Mahan Coal Limited (MCL), a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco. After it began lobbying against the project, the NGO got help form Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), an organisation of people from 11 villages that were affected by the project. As many as 54 villages depend on the Mahan forests for their livelihood and Greenpeace has been insisting that the project had been granted clearances under pressure.

Since Greenpeace entered Mahan, there have been allegations and counter-allegations from both sides. Another organistaion — Mahan Vikas Manch (MVM) — was formed whose members support the project saying it would bring development.

Mahan was among the coal blocks de-allocated by the Supreme Court last year. However, before the apex court order, the NGO had challenged the Stage-II clearance for the project in the Madhya Pradesh High Court alleging that it was based on an illegal Gram Sabha resolution. Greenpeace alleged that signatures of most of the villagers had been forged and that the resolution also included signatures of at least six villagers who were not alive.

Pillai told The Indian Express that MSS and Greenpeace had tried to file an FIR regarding the forged signatures but failed, before moving the High Court where the matter is pending. She also said she was yet to hear from the government as to why was she offloaded from the flight to London where she was to make a presentation before British MPs.

In May last year, two Delhi-based activists of Greenpeace and two members of MSS were arrested in Baidhan. While Greenpeace claimed they were documenting the markings on trees, the district administration had booked them for snatching equipment meant for survey, criminal intimidation and obstructing government officials on duty. Greenpeace had said the activists were arrested from Baidhan and were beaten in the lock up.

Greenpeace and former Union tribal minister V K C Deo agreed on the alleged violations of the Forest Rights Act with the minister writing to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Governor Ram Naresh Yadav about the alleged forged Gram Sabha resolution. Neither the BJP government nor the Governor showed any urgency to respond.

Mahan Coal Ltd was formed following joint allocation of the coal block to Essar Power Ltd and Hindalco Industries Ltd in 2006. The block was allocated to the companies for their respective end use projects: Essar’s power plant and Hindalco’s aluminium swelter and captive power plant. While the company claims that various certifications and clearances had been granted after “a thorough assessment of all facts, circumstances and impact”, the NGO alleges otherwise.

Milind Ghatwai

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