By Shivangi Adani:
“Never under estimate the power of a common man”Â – a dialogue from a popular Bollywood movie, Chennai Express, holds true in the case of Ramesh Agrawal. Here’s a story of a common man, who has won national and international recognition and has succeeded in shutting down one of the largest proposed coal mines of his region, Chhattisgarh.
That the wealthy have exploited the weak has been believed since the beginning of time. The third largest steel producer in India, Jindal Steel and Power Limited, is a good example of the same in recent times.Â In India, Chhattisgarh is the 3rd largest state with coal reserves after Jharkhand and Orissa. The company had proposed a coal-mining project where four million tons of coal would be mined every year. This coal-mining project was the largest of its kind in Chhattisgarh. The environment ministry had given an environmental clearance to the project but turns out that Jindal had violated laws by submitting false no objection certificates, not holding public hearings and forging signatures.
It is wellÂ known that mining projects affect villages and lives closely. The environment and innocent lives are destroyed because of companies who are interested only in profit making. When Ramesh Agrawal, 56, came to know about the coal-mining project and found out that the villagers were not aware of what has been happening, he decided to take a step forward.
Ramesh Agrawal has been a social activist for 20 years now. He formed his NGO called Jan Chetna, that works towards the protection of the environment.
The 56-year-old man, with an Internet CafÃ© as his base in Raigarh, brought the villagers in Chhattisgarh together and made them aware about their rights and laws. The villagers realized what had been happening and demanded that the project should be abandoned. Agrawal filed for petitions and information on the various industrial projects in area on behalf of the villagers and demanded an inquiry into the Jindal project. With the help of the Right to Information Act and the Forest Law Act, he has exposed various scams and frauds in his region.
Along with making the villagers aware and working towards the environment, Ramesh Agrawal also made a few enemies for himself. He was the standing obstacle for Jindal’s coal-mining project. False cases were filed against him and he had to suffer a term in jail for more than two years in 2010. In spite of all this, he remained firm. He continued his fight.
The National Green Tribunal was established in 2010 for hearing special environment cases. This case against Jindal was taken to the Tribunal in 2012. The tribunal cancelled the environmental clearance of the project, Justice C.V. Ramulu and R. Nagandran said that the entire process was a “farce”.
Soon after the hearing, one afternoon in July 2012 when Ramesh was at his Cyber CafÃ©, two men entered his CafÃ© for inquiry. At that very moment, they shot two bullets on his thigh and groin area, destroyed his femur and escaped the site on a motorbike.
Ramesh Agrawal survived but he still cannot walk without the help of a cane. The main attacker is still absconding and justice has not been delivered till date. The villagers have alleged that the attack had taken place by the influence of Navin Jindal. Jindal denies all allegations and the courts have been unable to straighten out the case. Agrawal has now filed a petition demanding a CBI inquiry into the case.
Ramesh Agrawal is the 5th Indian to have won the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as the Green Nobel, after a gap of 10 years. Before Ramesh Agrawal, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla had won the Goldman Environment Prize in 2004 for demanding a clean up and compensation of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal. The other winners of this year’s award are from Peru, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and the US.
Goldman Environmental Prize Program, initiated by the Goldmans, who have always been concerned about the environment, started on 16th April, 1990 and coincided with Earth Day. The program aims to acknowledge individuals for grassroots environmental achievements, even at a personal risk. It aims to inspire the public and draw attention to environmental issues. The Green Nobel is the largest program of its kind, which offers the recipients a price of $ 1,75,000.
“The fight is not just about coal but about governance, ethics and respect for human beings and nature,” says Ramesh Agrawal, in his speech at the Goldman Price Ceremony, which took place at San Francisco Opera House.Â Through all the hardships, Ramesh Agrawal has succeeded and continues making a difference in his region.