Authored by Leila Scola
In a huge victory for local and international campaigners, the Indian government has announced that the Mahan forest will not be cut down to make way for a huge coal mine.
The decision offers a reprieve for the 50,000 indigenous people living in the forest, who have been at the heart of an intense battle to protect the region’s 1,000 square kilometre Mahan forest.
Mahan in Madhya Pradesh is one of the oldest and largest sal forests in Asia. It is home to over 54 indigenous villages and several endangered wildlife species.
But the lives of these villages has been under threat, as plans for a giant coal mine threatened to swallow the forest, removing 400,000 trees.
The project, backed by Essar Energy and Hindalco Industries aimed to provide five million tonnes of coal every year for the next 14 years.
Following wrangling between India’s Ministry of Coal and its Environment Ministry, it was confirmed last week that the forest will kept off limits and that the block would not be auctioned.
The move has been welcomed by Greenpeace India, who have been working with local communities in the fight against coal in the region.
Senior Greenpeace India campaigner Priya Pillai, said:
It is refreshing to see [the government] accepting what Greenpeace and MSS (Mahan community Mahan Sangharsh Samiti) have been saying for years: this is a fabulous forest, home to endangered species and crucial to the livelihoods of thousands, and that is why it needs protection.
Greenpeace had been accused of “anti-national action” by the government over this campaign.
Last month Pillai was stopped at immigration and preventing from travelling to London where we was invited to speak out against the proposed Mahan coal mine – an incident deemed illegal by the Delhi High Court last year.
But the fight is not over. Greenpeace and MSS warn that many of India’s other coal block fall under dense forest areas.
The latest victory has seen three of these blocks saved, but there are still around 70 blocks that could be auctioned off.
The Mahan case if just one of many anti-coal battles taking place across India.
Last year, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that all of the country’s mining licenses awarded between 1993 and 2010 were awarded illegally – a move, which could see 218 licences cancelled across the country.
Yet, despite ongoing corruption in the country’s coal industry and growing opposition to dirty coal, and a growing transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, the Indian government continues to pursue the dirty energy source.
Last month, the government once again begun auctioning off coal mine sites, and this week the coal ministry will to decide the fate of nine mines, which are being re-examined to rule out any price discrepancies.
Meanwhile campaigners, like Greenpeace warn, the criteria for ruling out mines in forested areas remains inadequate, ignoring the needs of both the communities and wildlife that depend upon them.