Greenpeace India has been fighting alongside local groups to protect the forest of Mahan, in Central India, against the ravages of coal mining — and that fight is coming to a head right now.
Last week, the local administration met with Greenpeace and community members to promise that a new “free and fair” village meeting (a gram sabha) would be held in about three weeks to seek consent for the mine.
But just yesterday, the police seized communication and power equipment — and arrested two activists.
The government is trying to silence voices of dissent and suppress civil society.
Below is a first-hand account of the arrest. There have been no charges.
Around midnight, 10-11 policemen and two police women entered the guest house. Earlier in the day they had already confiscated our signal booster, solar panels and batteries in Amelia village where the Gram Sabha is to be held for no logical reason. On asking them to show us their search warrants they said they did not need any warrant for certain kinds of cases and proceeded to search all the rooms. They questioned us in detail about what each of us was doing in Mahan and we replied to all their questions. They also refused to talk to us in the guesthouse and made three of us including me walk downstairs to talk to them. We spoke to them at length till around 1:30am. They accused us of being a nuisance to the police and administration in the region and said that we were inciting villagers in Mahan. They then accompanied me back to the guesthouse to search it again. They also seized all our cameras and looked through them. Since they didn’t find anything, they returned the cameras.
The police then proceeded to arrest two of my colleagues and asked me to sign two documents – one was an arrest memo that stated that two people were being arrested and the second memo stated that they did not find any problematic evidence in the guesthouse.
Mahan is one of the oldest sal forests of Asia – Mahan, Madhya Pradesh are facing the threat of an absolute wipe out from coal mining. Giant corporations Essar and Hindalco are after the coal reserves below these forests.
“Like the recent ‘leaked’ IB report that attacked civil society groups like Greenpeace, this move further shows that authorities are clamping down on perceived threats to corporate interests,” says Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India and member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti(MSS), “Essar itself has filed two lawsuits – in Mumbai and Waidhan, MP – asking the courts to stop Greenpeace and the local communities speaking out against the mine project.”
“This is a clear example of how the local police are trying to harass peaceful forest rights activists. We were sent a notice by the police yesterday evening asking us about the mobile booster and the solar panels we had put up in Amelia village. But instead of giving us a chance to respond to the notice, the police shockingly came this morning, confiscating all our basic equipment, which is essential to operate in areas like Mahan which have virtually no electricity and low mobile connectivity,” adds Pillai.
We cannot stand for this repression of peaceful activists working to protect our forests from destructive coal mining.