Dr. Rajendra Pachauri is a great man. The international institution that he heads, Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007. The Teri University that he conceptualized and heads for a similar cause has won world acclaim. In 2008, the Government of India elevated his Padma Bhushan to an elevated Padma Vibhushan. Allegations of corruption against Pachauri had been made, rightly retracted and apologies tendered. All said and done, Dr, Pachauri gets paid for his work. Perhaps not enough for the impact he makes on the world environmental scene, but IPCC and the Chancellorship of Teri University are known to pay him.
Men of Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization formed by volunteers some 30 years ago in an attempt to stop nuclear testing in an island (named Amchitka as if inspirted by a Sanskrit text) off Alaska were mostly unpaid campaigners for the same cause as Dr. Pachauri’s with perhaps a bigger sting. The boat was intercepted and the bold mission was thwarted by the US Navy, but a new and selfless (and rather ego-centric and tumultous) attempt to save the earth and its occupants – not just humans, but also thousands of otters in this particular instance– was born.
A second ship, which they symbolically named Rainbow Warrior, which was moored off Auckland in New Zealand to stop a French Nuclear test. The young volunteers were not suicide bombers, and were rather certain that the French Government wouldn’t test the bomb while their lives were at stake. They were wrong. The ship was sunk by plastic bombs on the orders of the French Government. One photographer, Fernando Pereira, who was below the deck, drowned with the ship. Providence saved the rest. With that loss of a member, Greenpeace came of age. They learnt the value of sacrifice and the perils they faced; much of the ego factor was shed that one night.
Greenpeace has matured and grown since then; it has branches in scores of Countries. It runs on donation, but declines any offer from governments and corporates. The organization does everything peacefully possible to block governmental efforts – regardless which government and where – to destroy the environment and the planet’s ecosystem in the name of development. Naturally, governments of all shades hate Greenpeace.
Russia hauled up twenty eight Greenpeace activists , a photographer and an independent film maker for their attempt to block oil drilling in the Arctic that would cause ecological disaster. They had boarded the drilling ship, caught, and were accused of piracy. It took appeals from eleven Nobel Prize winners and 1.3 million signatures from ordinary citizens of the world to have them released released by Putin.
Predictably, with US, European, much of African and Asian (not to miss Indian) governments against it, Greenpeace has never won a Nobel Prize for its selfless service to the planet’s ecology and environment. The closest they got to it was when René Ngongo, an activist, got a Right Livelihood award for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The citation said : “ “Since 1994,including through the civil war from 1996-2002, René Ngongo has engaged, at great personal risk, in popular campaigning, political advocacy and practical initiatives to confront the destroyers of the rainforest and help create the political conditions that could halt its destruction and bring about its conservation and sustainable use.“. Right Livelihood award is often described as the alternative Nobel. The description of Ngongo’s work would fit that of many Greenpeace volunteers anywhere in the world. Personal risk is something young people factor into when they join Greenpeace.
In April 2014, a Chhattisgarh grassroots activist named Ramesh Agrawal won the Goldman Environmental prize. Agrawal was rewarded for his work with a gunshot in his legs by the mining mafia. Agrawal is perhaps not an official member of Greenpeace, but certainly share their activism. The latter is proud of his work and emboldened by it.
Greenpeace India has been active in the Country for nearly fifteen years. Included in the list of their aims in a letter addressed to the Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh are promoting renewable energy systems, protecting the rights of forest communities, promoting ecological agriculture, and supporting the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. The solar panel lined roof top of their office in Bangalore shows that they practice what they preach. Sixty percent of their funds are from donors in India, they claim, while the rest comes from Greenpeace International. The agenda for the Country is set locally without the international body pressurizing them for following their dictates.
The government, however, sees a ‘foreign hand’ in every activity that is not to their liking. It says that a questionnaire sent to them to explain their financial activites, sent two months ago is yet to be answered, Greenpeace retorts that they have nothing to hide; working on shoe-string budgets, their financial statements are available on their website (which, frankly, I couldn’t find on their site). Nobody could complain if the tax authorities check their book of accounts at any time. Greenpeace has offered to stop receiving funds from abroad – something the religious organizations including Christian, Islamic and Hindu ones, hawala operators or terrorist sleeping cells wouldn’t dare do. Greenpeace does not figure anywhere near the top fifteen Indian recipients of foreign donations.
The total donation Greenpeace received from abroad last year was Rs. 130 million against 200 million generated locally, as compared to “Chennai-based World Vision of India (Rs 2333.8 Mn), Believers Church India (Rs. 1900.5 Mn) in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, and Rural Development Trust (Rs. 1443.9 Mn), Ananthapur, Andhra Pradesh”. Yet in his report to the former Prime Minister, the National Security advisor Mr. M.K. Narayanan is reported to have ‘advised ‘ that the voluntary organization (and its European founders) ‘is a danger to Indian economy’ and permission to collect funds from abroad should be cancelled. Narayanan had a reason for cautioning the Prime Minister of the time : Mr. Manmohan Singh was seeking nuclear cooperation from the United States for establishing nuclear power projects all over the Country and Greenpeace was sure to cause troubles. Its support to people who opposed Koodankulam nuclear power project was well known.
No such warning is known to have been made against World Vision, a proselytizing group funded by the reactionary Reformist Church (ostensibly with an educational agenda) despite all the hullaballoo by the governing party’s men being raised against conversion these days.
Mahan Forest is the largest and probably the oldest Sal forest in the world. Its biodiversity is unique and a habitat for endangered species. In 2007, a company formed jointly by Essar Limited of England and Hindalco of India in the name of Mahan Coal Company applied for mining coal lying beneath a 1072.35 ha of Mahan forest and some 17.65 hectare of revenue land outside the forest. About sixty villages are situated in and around the forest area, of which 14 villages of about 15,000 residents have been earning their livelihood directly from forest produce. As per Greenpeace, some 50,000 humans in all would be affected by the deforestation and ecological disaster caused by the proposed mining. More than 400,000 trees would be cut – a huge bonus for the mining company and a manna from heaven for the loggers. Trillions of litres of subsoil water will be pumped out.
The Environmental Clearance granted in December 2008 stipulated no condition for the rehabilitation or alternative occupation for the forest dwellers. They were not considered part of the environment. They were called poachers because their lives depended on tendu leaves and herbs collected from the forest. Apparently, the UPA government was in a tearing hurry to approve the project.
As per the stipulations, 8.5 Million tons of coal will be mined from the site annually – 5 Mt to be used by Essar in their power plant 5 kilometres away and 3.5 Mt by Hindalco situated 22 kilometres away. Seventeen years later, when the entire coal bank is reduced to nothing, the mining would cease. Part of the land will be filled with the rocks and soil (called Ore Body or OB dug out from above the coal mine) and will be progressively planted with trees (starting from the fourth year) with 2,500 saplings planted for each hectare. The rest of the land will be converted to a water body of some 26 metre depth – barely deep enough to drown all the corrupt politicians and their officials in the government that approved 214 coal mining projects illegally (as per the Supreme Court) since 1993.
“The coal block is undoubtedly in a biodiversity-rich area. It will destroy good natural forest cover and interfere with wildlife habitats.”, said Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development at the time, raising objections to the project.
Mr. V Kishore Chandra Deo, Minister for Tribal Affairs in the same government fought the proposal tooth and nail. He alleged that during a special gram sabha on FRA held on March 6, 2013 in Amelia village, a tehsildar, Vivek Gupta, along with police personnel made rounds of the village with the gram sabha (village council) register, forcing people to sign on the register. The minister said that this was done to garner support for a resolution approving diverting forestland to the mining project.According to an agitating villager, signatures and thumb impressions were foged, including those of those who were long dead.
Forest Minister Jayantyi Natarajan initially opposed the project, but later demurred under whatever pressure that was applied. She wrote:”Despite reservations against the diversion of the dense forest land expressed strongly by the MoEF at the GoM, and the fact that the entire civil work and construction of the plant is already complete after procurement of environmental clearance — and resulting inter alia in huge exposure to nationalised banks — Forest Clearance may be granted to the Mahan Coal block.” In effect, let the premature and ill-conceived investments by tycoons be protected; to hell with Forest Rights Act 2006.
Let not the corporate and the banks lose money, even if that meant loss of livelihood for thousands of forest dwellers, was the gist of that explanation while admitting that serious reservations existed within the ministry itself. The underlying principle was that de facto irregularities needed to be regularised if it hurt vested interests.
Nobody questioned why the banks were in such a hurry to lend money to Essar and Hindalco even before permission was granted by Natarajan’s own ministry. And how the hell the loss to nationalized banks incurred through unreasonable and questionable hurry was more important than the bare livelihood of the Nation’s citizens.
Greenpeace dared ask those questions. They organized the villagers, led demonstrations against the project; wrote to all those who mattered, and even to people like me who didn’t matter. Many activists were put in jail on trumped up charges – a legacy from the British colonial regime.
The fight went on till something incredible happened: the Supreme Court struck down the allocation of 214 coal blocks between 1993 and 2009 and declared them illegal. How, and why, and for how much those illegal allotments were sanctioned and by whom, has not yet been questioned. We have only heard of Minister A. Raja and Member of Parliament Kanimozhi being made scapegoats for frequency spectrum allocation, which is another story.
Unfortunately, that Court order was a temporary reprieve. The new Government under Mr. Narendra Modi is in a hurry to redress the widely advertised global corporate complaint that India is a difficult country to do business with. Legal hurdles in land acquisition of land for industry and infrastructure (not to forget mining) will be removed “with the participation of the stake holders” meaning land holders. Forest-dependent tribals, of course, wouldn’t count. In the next six months there will be renewed auction of coal blocks. Evidently, rules will be promulgated to ensure that environmental objections will have little or no say in the matter.
In the meanwhile, The Mahan Coal Mining Company has split; now Essar and Hindalco are on their own. It is certain that with so much of their money already staked , both will bid when the auction for Mahan forest coal comes up. As per a strange new rule, the auction will be based on whether the mined coal would be put to Power or Non-Power use. Frankly, I can’t help seeing it as a new way to pre-decide who should win the bid. Essar has a thermal power plant 5 kilometres from Mahan forest with the infrastructure for moving coal in place; Hindalco has an aluminium smelter plant and a captive power plant already running at some 22 kilometres away. Coal from Mahan would make the planta world beater in terms of profit. As per the original plan, Essar was to get 5 million tons of coal per annum for its plant, and Hindalco 3.5 million. Now I suppose whoever wins can use what he needs and sell the rest.
Greenpeace India has its work cut out for it once again. The old game of Government hounding its members is back on trail.
A panel of MPs from British Parliament invited Priya Pillai, a senior activist of Greenpeace in Mahan, for a discussion on the Mahan project. Presumably they wanted to gauge the pros and cons of Essar staking a bid again. If the outcome of the discussion is that the panel dissuades Essar from bidding, a part of Modiji’s ‘Make in India’ program be dented to that extent. With that forethought in mind, the government decided that Pillai must not fly to England for her pow-wow..
Unaware of the trap being laid for her in the South Block (or in some Bhavan thereabouts), Priaya Pillai went to the airport, anxious to spell out her organization’s concerns to the British parliamentarians. If the news is to be believed, she almost got through but was then off-loaded. Why, demanded the sprightly lady. We are simply obeying our orders, answered the officials. “We have a look-out notice against you”. Just like they had look-out notices against smugglers, hawala racketeers, Terrorist sleeper cells , they had one for Priya Pillai from Greenpeace India. Period.
Explanation from the Government came forth soon enough. The old advice from the old and pensioned-off National Security Advisor to the old and discredited (by the new) government had been brought out from cold storage, microwaved, made crisp and applied on Ms Pillai. She was holding a ticket paid for by Greenpeace International. A return ticket (Economy, no doubt) to Heathrow which could cause total damage to India’s economy that is poised to beat China’s but for the cost of this one ticket.
Prime Minister Mr. Modi is a man online. He has a twitter account that rolls out daily impressive tweets without fail, a professionally produced website for himself, and another for his government. However, there was one online tool neither he nor his men had clued in to yet- Skype. Disgruntled and disappointed from being denied a personal (and no doubt televised by the BBC) interview with some of the best elected minds in England, she got on to Skype and had that interview with them regardless. What she said, how much she said, and what effect it would have on the livelihood of Mahan’s tribals is yet to be known.
This round goes to Priya Pillai. You have done well, Prya, get ready with your people for the next round. This is no amateur match, there may be more than the usual three rounds.
While at it, let me know by the comment column below how I could make a small donation by NEFT for your cause. May be my readers will chip in too.