What’s at stake:About 35% of the country’s 1700 wild tigers are in Central India. Thousands of communities depend on these forests. Cutting down forests and burning coal will release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. This will heat up the atmosphere and threaten all life on Earth.
The Republic of Junglistan, a nation of those who want to save the forests from coal mining, came into being in 2011. Sheroo and Bhaloo from the Republic toured the country asking people to become citizens of Junglistan.
In June 2012, I started my journey to document the destruction caused by coal mining in the forests of Central India. My journey culminated in a month long stay in the Padmapur forest in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. My tree house in the forest was next to the Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve and overlooked a coal powered plant. I was there to draw attention to the plight of these forests and everything that thrives in them.
While I was in the forests, news came that the Maharashtra Forest Department had rejected the Adani group’s proposed coal mining project in the nearby Lohara forest. This was a victorious moment for the local communities in Chandrapur who have been fighting to save their forests from destruction.
Inspired by this win and the support of over 200,000 people I left the forests for Hyderabad, where India was playing host to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Prime Minister was going to address the world here about conservation and I wanted to meet him and give him the petitions asking him to protect our forests from his coal mining plans.
Minister of Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natrajan inaugurated the CBD and activists along with actor Amala Akinenni unfurled a banner across the Charminar (Image). All of them were detained and released later.
A week before the PM was to address the CBD, people started sending him emails, asking him to meet me. I wrote to him too. By October 16, 100 people had sent him personal emails. While he was addressing the CBD, Sheroo, me and other activists were at the CBD venue. NGOs and even journalists were barred from attending the PM’s speech. We were asked to leave and later detained by the local police.
They stopped me from meeting the PM but they could not stop hundreds of people on Twitter from tweeting a banner which said ‘NO COAL” to the @PMOIndia account. At the end of the day the PMO account finally tweeted something related to the environment and CBD, “In recent years, it has become increasingly more difficult to find common ground on environmental issues. #COP11”.
The struggle to protect our forests is far from over. I will not give up till I get the PM to meet me and take all the signatures from me in person. This gives us time to make the support bigger. We have to use every opportunity in the coming months and maybe years to keep building the pressure on the PM to save our forests.
I am Brikesh Singh. I grew up in Mumbai, with all the hardships an ordinary Mumbaikar has to face. Work brought me to Bangalore, that’s home for now.
I like travelling, meeting people, cooking, reading, watching movies and listening to music. I care for nature and I think we really need to do a lot more to protect and preserve all that it has to offer us.
The images of destruction caused by coal mining that I saw in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, during a fact finding mission, never left me. The thought that other forests in Central India faced a similar future was depressing. I had signed-up to become a citizen of Junglistan and before that I’d signed several such petitions.
This time, however, I felt like there was a need to do something more. So I set out on a journey to find out the true cost of electricity. This whole journey was like discovering a trail of destruction caused by coal mining.
I’ll tell you everything about what I saw and the people I met. It strengthened my resolve to protect the forests and I hope it has the same effect on you.
Like I said before, the first time I came across the destruction caused by coal mining was during a fact finding mission to Singrauli, in Madhya Pradesh. Singrauli provides for almost 12% of India’s total energy production from coal.
Vast stretches of barren land, smoke and ash. That’s what coal mining has done to this district. Life in all its forms, human and animal, has been affected. Only the companies and politicians seem to have gained from this destruction.
Singrauli made me understand how privileged my city life is. I saw the real cost of the electricity we urban Indians often waste. Forests harbour and protect so much. Destroying them, especially when there are alternative energy sources, is not acceptable.
Wildlife is amongst the first victims of coal mining. When coal companies start digging for coal, they also start digging the graves of the wildlife that thrive in these forests.
Forests in Central India boast of leopards, elephants, bears and tigers. Yes, endangered tigers – our national animal – that our government is so concerned about protecting. Almost 35% of the 1700 wild tigers in India are in the forests of Central India. Some of our most famous tiger reserves like Kanha, Bandhavgarh, and Tadoba-Andhari lie in these forests.
Coal mines will destroy important corridors between forests that the tiger and other wildlife need to thrive. Our government says it wants to save the tigers, but they want to profit from coal too. They can’t do both. So far, it’s coal that is winning.
During my journey in the forests of Central India, I met Chote Singh, a Gond tribal who depends on the Mahan forest for his living. The forests in Mahan have recently received provisional clearance from a Group of Ministers for coal mining.
As and when mining commences here, Chote Singh, and thousands like him, will have to find other ways of sustaining themselves.
A major part of India’s forest communities live and depend on the forests of Central India. Their life revolves around forests. Like Chote Singh says, “Life starts from the forests and ends in them as well.” Coal mining will take everything away from them.
Then there are people like Kalavati. She owns land that is rich in coal too. Once the companies set their eyes on her piece of land, she’ll be forced to sell it for a measly amount, which she says she has little hopes of receiving.
Coal mines usurp homes and destroy the livelihood of thousands and give them sickness in return.
I grew up in Mumbai, a city where house hunting is one of the toughest tasks. But it’s not as tough as living right next to a coal mine. People who live near these mines suffer from lung diseases, some fatal. The very first breath an infant takes is laced with toxic dust and fine ash.
These people gave away their lands because coal mines and power plants were supposed to bring them prosperity. In reality, the coal companies have prospered at the cost of these people. They want to mine more coal, destroy more forests and displace more people. And the government is ready to look the other way.
My question: how can destruction and sickness be good for any country?
Living far away from forests does not mean that we don’t get affected by their destruction. The one thing I’ve understood in my two years of working on this issue is that the destruction of natural forests affects everyone.
Climate change is for real and carbon and other emissions from coal powered plants are one of the biggest causes. Forests and trees trap carbon and release the oxygen that we breathe; we learnt this in school. Our government wants to destroy the forest to get more coal and add to our carbon emissions.
It was during my visits to the areas affected by coal mining, that the news of the coal scam became public. The leaked version of the CAG report valued the coal scam as 10 times bigger than the 2G scam. Its final report only looked at the role of private companies and brought the figure of loss down to 1.86 lakh crores from 10.67 lakh crores, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the biggest scam our country has ever seen.
Coal companies, both private and public, already have more clearances for coal mining than the country needs. Their greed is never satiated. More coal means more money for the already rich coal and power companies. For the rest of us, it is price hikes and scams, telling us how our hard earned money is being trifled with by a few who yield power.
And our forest communities will lose their homes and way of life. After losing all that money, the country will also lose its forests and wildlife. All for coal mining.
I have never denied the fact that we need electricity. So before you say, ‘if not coal, then what?’, I’ll tell you about renewable energy and energy efficiency.
It’s not like coal is our only hope. Forests don’t have to be sacrificed to meet the demands of us city people. Clean energy can provide for all without hurting the environment.
In fact, renewable energy has given remote villages in Bihar access to electricity. A large number of villages in Bihar get electricity from rice husk. Incredible isn’t it? So why can’t we make use of solar and other renewable energy options in both cities and villages, wherever possible in fact, instead of relying only on coal?
If businesses and factories are made to use energy efficiently, we will dig out a lot less coal - and destroy fewer forests - in the first place. Stringent rules on the way energy is consumed can save our forests.
The government says that forest destruction is a price we have to pay to provide for electricity. But what if lakhs and lakhs of city dwellers like us tell the government that we want them to protect forests and use alternate sources to give us electricity?
The petition asking the Prime Minister to save the forests from coal mining has crossed 100,000 signatures from varied sources already. Add all the signatures showing support for forests in the last one year and we have over 250,000 signatures. There’s still time for these numbers to grow to a massive 300,000 signatures or even more.
Now we have the power of social media. The simple share button has actually helped start revolutions across the world.
We have the example of Egypt, where the revolution against the oppressive regime literally started on the internet. Individuals spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Lakhs filled up Tahrir square and eventually achieved success. Occupy Wall Street in New York, and a lot of peaceful revolutions all over the world are doing the same.
Our movement to save the forests is no different. We can actually help forest-dependent communities that have been trying to protect their forests for so long. We have the internet and social networks.
We saw this when we did the first ever ‘Occupy Social Media’ in India on August 23, 2012. This website (www.junglistan.org) became the most tweeted link in India and #CoalScam and #SavetheForests were top trending topics on the day we occupied social media. Our efforts actually helped add to the pressure on the government to take stern action on the coal scam. An action by hundreds of us even forced a response from the otherwise very quiet @PMOIndia Twitter account.
The movement will grow when you and I talk about it, share it with our friends and they start talking about it with their friends.
Enough has been sacrificed for coal. Let’s put an end to this destruction now!
Get the movement started. Share it with your friends!