Mahan: Flashpoint for Govt and NGOs

Mahan: Flashpoint for Govt and NGOs
Mahan in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli, where one of the oldest Sal forests in Asia is struggling for its survival, has become the biggest battleground for the government and corporates on the one side and civil society on the other. The government and corporates like Essar and Hindalco are trying to unearth the untapped coal to fuel their power projects, while NGOs like Greenpeace are opposing possible devastation to lives of men and women as well as flora and fauna.

Several power projects are envisaged in this region with some estimating that around 35,000 MW of power would be generated from the projects situated in the otherwise nondescript Singrauli. Among them, four projects hog the limelight. The Essar-owned Mahan Super Thermal Power project (Unit 1 operational and Unit 2 under construction), Hindalco-owned Mahan Captive Thermal Power project (3 out of 6 units operational) and Mahan Aluminium Ltd as well as their joint venture Mahan coal block, meant to supply coal to their power projects. The coal block allocation was recently scrapped by the Supreme Court due to irregularities in its distribution.

Both Essar and Hindalco plants plan to draw coal from Mahan coal block, which has some 150 tonnes of coal, but mining cannot be started as clearances are yet to come.

Greenpeace brought the struggle against the projects in Mahan to international limelight in 2012. “The government is reviewing major environmental laws, including the Forest Rights Act that has been key in protecting forest dwellers. This is why a fight such as Mahan in India is critical,” Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai said recently.

In a sense, Pillai became the face of Mahan protests after government offloaded her from a London-bound plane when she was headed to brief UK MPs about the project. The charge against Greenpeace was that it used foreign funds to “create” protests in Mahan and was acting at the behest of foreign countries to pull back India’s development projects.

The fight is still on in Mahan and one has to wait to see who will have the last laugh.

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