Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), a non-government organisation supported by prominent members of other social movements today once again questioned the manner in which stage-II clearance has been given to the Mahan Coal Ltd, a joint venture between Essar and Aditya Birla Group promoted Hindalco Ltd.
The MSS today alleged harassment to its members by police and other authorities and has urged the government of Madhya Pradesh to end the "systematic clampdown of the movement of MSS against Essar and Hindalco's proposed coal mine in Mahan forests in Singrauli".
"A proposed Gram Sabha or any other democratic process cannot be held in a repressive atmosphere," Priya Pillai, a prominent member of MSS alleged here.
The proposed coal mine is bound to destroy the livelihood of more than 50,000 villagers from over 54 villages, alleged Pillai and demanded, the rights of all the 54 villages must first be recognised and people have to be informed about the project in their native language.
To settle claims of the villagers in Mahan forest area, the district administration has proposed a Gram Sabha anytime between second and third week of August. "The Gram Sabha will be convened to settle forest rights of the villagers, which had been sanctioned during earlier this year," M Selvendran, district collector had said.
The activists also demanded that the state chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan should take immediate steps to revoke Essar's license to mine the forests in Mahan. "The license has been granted trampling over the rights of over 50,000 forest dwellers from over 50 villages that are dependent on the forests of Mahan for their livelihood. MSS demanded that the state government should take immediate steps to ensure that the forest rights Act is implemented in all these villages," Pillai alleged.
Meanwhile, Mahan Coal Ltd, has strongly condemned the MSS move and said that some people and institutions having vested interest are publishing and misleading statements in relations to the Mahan Coal Limited and thereby provoking villagers and other people under the pretext of environment and tribal rights.
On forest rights claims company's chief executive officer Ramakant Tiwari said, "Mahan Coal Limited has obtained all statutory approvals including Stage II forest clearance from Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and final forest clearance from the Government of Madhya Pradesh after complying with all stringent conditions and statutory provisions."
He also said, "There is not a single person or family (and, hence, no scheduled tribes or other traditional forest dwellers) residing in the forest area of Mahan coal block. Thus, in a strict sense, claims being made by vested interests are outside the preview of The Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006."
He further said, "Mahan Coal Limited has accepted and agreed to the conditions of Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to pay to the villagers living adjacent to the forest land in the villages of Amiliya, Budher and Suggo. This will compensate the villagers who are residing outside the forest land being diverted for Mahan Coal Block, but collect the forest produce.
This is perhaps one of the unique cases in the Country, where in spite of there not being any displacement, re-settlement, benefits amounting to significant sums will accrue to villagers."
Tiwari further said, "Payment of annuity, as may be determined by the Government, will start soon after the physical handover of forest land by the state forest department. Majority of the villagers wish that the project should start immediately so that they start getting the compensation."
Such actions not only delay the project but also prevent the villagers from getting their legitimate benefits and compensation. Further, it also stalls the economic development of the country and hampers public purpose, he said.
Mahan Coal block is situated on the periphery of the Mohan Forest Reserves; it forms only 9.8 sq km of total forest area out of 925.30 sq m. Essar is setting up a power plant while Hindalco will have world's largest alumina smelter in Singrauli district. Mahan coal mines will feed both the plants.