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Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan’s Alok Shukla to be receive Goldman Environmental Prize

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NEW DELHI, April 29: Forest and tribal rights activist Alok Shukla will on Friday receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – 2024 for successfully leading a community campaign that saved 4,45,000 (4.45 lakh) acres of biodiversity-rich forests from 21 planned coal mines in Chhattisgarh.

Also known as the Green Nobel, the prize recognises grassroots environmental heroes from roughly the world’s six inhabited continental regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America.

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A statement from the Goldman Environmental Foundation mentioned that the government cancelled the auction of 21 proposed coal mines in Hasdeo Aranya, whose pristine forests — popularly known as the lungs of Chhattisgarh — are one of the largest intact forest areas in India.

Spread across 657 square miles, the dense and biodiverse Hasdeo Aranya forests form one of India’s most extensive contiguous forest tracts. They are also home to 25 endangered species, 92 bird species, and 167 rare and medicinal plant species.

Nearly 15,000 tribals depend on the Hasdeo Aranya forests for their livelihood, cultural identity and sustenance.

Meanwhile, the region contains one of India’s largest coal reserves — an estimated five billion tons of coal sit under the Hasdeo forests.

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In 2010, the Union Environment Ministry declared the Hasdeo forests a “no-go” zone for mining in recognition of their rich biodiversity but the declaration was never formalised into law and successive governments have attempted to jumpstart mining operations.

Shukla (43), who brought local communities together in a unified movement in 2012 with the creation of the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, began organising the villagers to protest against the public auction of the 21 proposed coal mines in June 2020.

In October 2020, he led local villagers to lobby the village legislative councils to designate 9,45,000 (9.45 lakh) acres as the Lemru elephant reserve, protecting the elephant corridor and its boundaries from planned coal mines, the Foundation said.

Sustained community protests led the government to withdraw three mines from public auction in September 2020 and, after a 10-day, 166-mile protest march to Raipur in October 2021 alongside 500 villagers, the process for an additional 14 mines were cancelled.

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Shukla, the convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, garnered widespread support on social media and digital platforms by using the hashtag #SaveHasdeo.

The campaign inspired creative acts around the country, including motorcycle rallies and couples using the hashtag in their wedding invitations.

In the spring of 2022, the villagers began an indefinite sit-in and launched tree-hugging protests against the felling of 300 trees that had been cleared for the proposed mines.

In July 2022, the state legislature adopted a resolution against mining in the entire Hasdeo Aranya region.

The state government cancelled the auction of the remaining of the 21 coal blocks by July 2022.

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman.

The 2024 prize winners will be celebrated at an in-person ceremony in San Francisco on Monday. (PTI)






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