After taking on the Tatas, the Adanis and the Vedanta group, activists of pro-environment body Greenpeace took on the Essar group on Wednesday regarding the Mahan coal mining project in Madhya Pradesh. It organised demonstrations outside the Essar offices here and in London.
An Essar spokesperson said Greenpeace activists, masquerading as building cleaning agents, gained access to the company’s office in Mumbai. “In this illegal act, the trespassers misused the office premises to spread anti-corporate, misleading and false propaganda,” the spokesperson said. “These people suspended themselves from the top of the building. In doing so, they endangered lives of those working in the building and disrupted normal working of the employees,” he said. The police later arrested all activists for trespassing, the official said.
The Supreme Court had last year allowed gram sabhas (village councils) in Odisha to decide the fate of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh plant, meant to make aluminium by excavating bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills, the latter revered by the villagers as a sacred place.
The villagers voted the project out, leading to Vedanta’s Rs 5,000-crore project now facing an acute shortage of raw materials and near-closure. The villagers received support from Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who publicly said the project should not impact the lives of poor people.
Greenpeace said 12 activists scaled the building wearing tiger costumes, a symbol of protest against the proposed destruction of Mahan forests, a biodiversity-rich sal forest in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. The activists demanded the prime minister dismiss new environment minister Veerappa Moily.
“In 20 days, our new environment minister has cleared 70 projects worth Rs 1.5 lakh crore, which means he can’t possibly have considered each proposal properly. Has he been appointed to line the pockets of a tiny number of wealthy corporate companies like Essar, who are out there to wipe off forests like Mahan, or to safeguard the environment, rights of people and wildlife of the country?” asked Priya Pillai, a campaigner for Greenpeace India.
Villagers in the Mahan forests were part of the protest outside the Essar building. “We have travelled 2,000 km to send them a strong message that our voices cannot be silenced,” said Kripanath, a resident of Amelia village in Singrauli district.
The Mahan coal block was granted to Mahan Coal Ltd, a joint venture of Essar Power and Hindalco Industries, in 2006 after initially being rejected by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. It was granted in-principle approval by the Union environment and forests ministry on October 18, 2012, after pressure from a Group of Ministers (GoM) on coal mining. Hindalco, an Aditya Birla Group company, has 50 per cent stake in the block.