By Ignatius Joseph:
In this episode Greenpeace activist Brikesh Singh spends a day with Chote Singh, a Gond tribal in the Mahan forests. Coal companies have obtained a “provisional” clearance from the government to mine in these forests. Soon these forests could be destroyed and the forest dwellers forced to forego their livelihood and leave their homes.
There are 54 villages in the vicinity of the Mahan forest block and almost 60,000 people live here. For generations they have depended on forest produce to sustain themselves and have been living off the land, growing vegetables, collecting Mahua, mushrooms and firewood from the forests. There also happens to be a lot of coal under these forests so they immediately come under threat.
Although the forests they depend on, are being taken over to burn coal for electricity, these communities have no electricity themselves. Living close to the thermal power plants and coal mines, their health and well-being is affected while they don’t get any of the benefits. They lose their land and are largely ignored by the coal companies and the government thereafter. At the most, some of them get jobs in the coal mines, a measly offering considering they have lost their land, livelihood and the forest they depend on.
The forest dwellers share a profound connection to the forests as they act as caretakers of the land which also sustains them. Notwithstanding the human impact, destroying the forests and all life in it for cheap coal is a criminal waste. When asked if he would choose the comforts of electricity over the forests, Chote Singh puts it best, “We live and die by the forest, we cannot survive without it,” he says. The real question then is can the rest of us survive without forests and nature and live by electricity alone?