Man Saves Forest

An Indian environmental activist has won the prestigious ‘Green Nobel’ for saving a 657 square-mile forest from 21 coal mines.

India faces frequent blackouts, affecting everyone from city residents to rural communities. The Modi government’s push for development and economic dominance has led to massive increases in power generation, including both solar and coal energy. India is a major coal consumer, and the Hasdeo Aranya forests, known as the “Lungs of Chhattisgarh,” are rich in coal deposits.

The state government was considering 21 coal mining projects across 445,000 acres of biodiverse forests that are crucial to 15,000 indigenous Adivasi people and numerous wildlife species, including tigers, elephants, and leopards. These forests, one of India’s largest intact habitats, faced destruction from 5.6 billion metric tons of mineable coal.

Alok Shukla, founder of the Save Hasdeo Aranya Resistance Committee, has spent a decade fighting to protect Hasdeo. His efforts included media campaigns, protests, and direct appeals to the legislature, emphasizing constitutional protections for tribal people and their environments.

Shukla proposed the creation of the Lemru elephant reserve within Hasdeo to protect migration corridors and cancel three mining proposals. This sparked a 160-mile protest march towards Raipur, the state capital. Midway through their march, they learned that the state legislature had unanimously agreed to protect the forest and cancel all mining proposals and existing licenses.

“We had no expectations, but the legislative assembly voted unanimously that all of the coal mines of Hasdeo should be canceled, and the forest should be saved,” Shukla recalled to the Goldman Prize media channel. “That was a very important and happy moment for all of us.”

Shukla shares the 2024 Goldman Environmental Prize with five other winners from Brazil, the US, South Africa, Australia, and Spain.

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