PERREAULT Magazine September 2014 - Page 41

"India must choose to be champion or villain for climate and development"

Greenpeace has been working with the local community for more than three years to help them defend their rights. The villagers have organised themselves through MSS, (Mahan Sangharsh Samiti or Mahan Struggle Organisation), and are engaged in peaceful mass direct action to stop the mine. But they are very concerned about what's happening. The Jabalpur high court is currently looking into allegations that villagers' signatures were forged in the gram sabha resolution to show approval for the mine.

The other way coal will hold back development, and especially food production, is climate change. In India up to 40% of current CO2 emissions come from coal-burning, making India the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after China and the US. And in cases like Mahan and across central India, where coal reserves are located under forest, there is a climate double whammy of cutting trees while also burning more coal.

In spite of "sabka saath, sabka vikas", Modi's vision of development so far looks more like Amelia than Dharnai. In its first few weeks in office, his government has already made it easier for companies to clear forests for coal. For example, last week it launched a new, one-stop online shop for corporations to apply to cut forests for mines and other projects, which doesn't seem to have been accompanied by any tightening of monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

But now Modi has an opportunity in New York, not only to give reality to the slogan, but also to make India a leader of the 21st century. He should showcase Dharnai as a combined development and climate solution that could leapfrog the outdated technologies of the west. He could also provide funding to replicate Dharnai, for example from taxes on coal.

This story of two villages illustrates the choice faced by India, and indeed by developing countries. A choice between future and past, between light and dark, between people and corporate profit.

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India's new prime minister Narendra Modi has promised development for all but does that mean acting on climate change? Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/REUTERS