Monday, 14 July 2014

Heart Broken:

“There is coal underneath the land all around this area. Overnight people are becoming crorepati.”

I turned around to see a podgy man, a local, talking with a flourish to one of his co-passengers. I stared at him long and hard trying to fathom what exactly he understood of this coal business. I was traveling in a rickety ‘delux’ bus from Ambikapur to Bilaspur. The bus was crossing the thick Sal forests of the beautiful Hasdeo-Arand in north Chhattisgarh. I heard the mention of coal from another group of men sitting in front of me. Our bus was now crossing a bridge over one of the most beautiful, transparent and sparklingly clean river I have seen in a long time, the Hasdeo river. Now-a-days most rivers in the plains are either littered or are dry due to damming. Staring out the window at the rain-soaked dark green world outside, my heart grew heavier by the minute.

Parts of Hasdeo-Arand Forests

Coal is the new diamond across Central India and everybody is waiting for a turn to grab this treasure. In the fairly small town of Ambikapur, one cannot find a room in a hotel if you do not book in advance. The unfortunate part is that coal in this region is found just underneath dense virgin forests where elephants and bears live. To maximize profit, 90% of coal mining in India is done through open-pit mining since it’s easier and cheaper to remove layers from the top. Underground mining requires heavy investment in really good technology to maximize extraction. And we all are aware that Indians will do anything to cut corners. The thing with coal and why it is called ‘dirty’ is that it doesn’t stop with coal mining. Along with it comes ancillary industries like coal washing, power plants because transporting coal to larger distance is expensive, dams across rivers because coal based power plants are water guzzlers, rail lines to ferry coal (sometimes), dumping of fly ash, cement plants which uses fly ash etc. The devastation wrecked hence by coal mining in a forested area is now for you to imagine.  
Coal burning and releasing toxic smoke in Korba

A women walks in a coal mining affected region in Jharkhand

We have always known that when it comes to such industries, the government and the companies alike have scant regard for forests and wildlife. But this deep apathy also extends to the indigenous communities who have been living in these forests for generations. Despite laws which allow them legal rights over land and transparency and fairness during compensation, the companies have used loopholes, taken advantage of these communities and their inability to understand the business or laws, and numerous crooked means to get what they want. In Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, land is being acquired without notification and fudging signatures of Gram Sabhas. Compensation in Chhattisgarh is as low as Rs. 10lakhs per acre of fertile land and since average land-holding of families is 2-4 acres, nobody so far has become ‘crorepati’ as that man in the bus wanted others to believe.

In Jharkhand where political instability is the norm rather than exception, it has been a free-for-all so far. Three blocks in Hazaribag district with roughly between 200-300 villages are under ‘land grab’. It is being said that no village will be spared. Land is being acquired for coal mining, power plants, displacement due to dams, resettlement of displaced villages etc. Prime agricultural land with multi-cropping is earmarked for industries. Compensation varies on the basis of whims and fancies of companies and is known to differ from Rs. 21,000 per acre to Rs.71,000 per acre of fertile land. There are cases where two brothers from the same village have got different compensation on the basis of who has paid what amount to the village agents.

Greenpeace India has taken up the cause of Mahan (in MP), Jharkhand media is frail in portraying the actual picture, Chhattigarh media is controlled by the state government, hence nobody tells the actual tales happening there. But if anybody has the ability to take a bird’s eye view of the situation and understand the cumulative impact, the apathy, the utter disregard for wildlife and destruction of natural resources, and the injustice perpetrated by all involved towards the communities is so humongous that it can blow the mind. At least it blew my mind.

A forest village earmarked for full displacement due to mining in Chhattisgarh

While I listened to the conversations on coal around me in that rickety bus, kilometers and kilometers of the forest, all earmarked for land diversion, flew past my eyes. I love these forests of Chhattisgarh, second only to my love of the Himalayas. They are ancient, dark and deep. They have a living breathing soul. And in a few years time, they will cease to exist along with all the beings inside them.

At one point in time during my visits to the villages inside these forests, I got down the car, walked inside the forest and said sorry to the trees there for humanity’s misdeeds. I said sorry about the fact that I, despite loving them so much, cannot do anything to save them. Not a leaf stirred when I turned my back. Something told me they already knew their future.    


Save the forests of Mahan by signing the Greenpeace campaign:


  1. Makes you wonder what our priorities are. What are we running after, really? Will we stop at nothing to satiate our greed!

    1. Aparna, in my opinion we have crossed that line long ago....there is no stopping now.

  2. May I share what Herman Hesse said about trees? It is one of my favourite passages ever.

    For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

    Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

    A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

    A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

    When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

    A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

    So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

    From Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte [Trees: Reflections and Poems], 1984.

    1. Super! Thank you.
      "Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness."
      Love this!