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April 27, 2012

Sierra Club India: National Green Tribunal Strikes Again, Revokes Coal Plant Clearance

In yet another significant decision by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) the environmental clearance granted to a huge disputed coal mine being pushed by Jindal Steel in Chattisgarh, India, has been revoked.

The reason is unsurprising - a dysfunctional public hearing process. What is surprising is the NGT's determination to hold polluters accountable. Following on the heels of a coal plant the tribunal stopped dead in its tracks on the opposite side of the country in Kutch, this decision makes clear the NGT is working to reign in the Wild West atmosphere that is driving India's Coal Crisis.

NGT hearing violenceThe judgment came in response to an appeal filed by longtime activist Ramesh Agarwal. Calling the public hearing a 'farce' and 'mockery' of the process after terrible violence broke out abetted by police batons, the NGT revoked the Ministry of Environment and Forest clearance.

Most importantly, in its decision the NGT recognized the incredibly strong resistance to such coal projects – a resistance that is remarkably absent in all media coverage of India's ongoing coal crisis. Regardless of the lack of media attention, and the determination of many to ignore it, this groundswell of opposition continues to rapidly grow.

Public hearings like these clearly demonstrate how local communities are being steamrolled by powerful corporate interests and pliant local governments as they push through destructive new coal projects all across the country. This is what makes the NGT ruling so remarkable. Not only did the court rightfully revoke the company's permit (which sent Jindal Steel's market value plummeting), it did so in the heart of Indian coal country. This is a hard fought victory for Indian activists, and their friends and colleagues around the world struggling daily to get their governments to uphold the rule of law.

Unfortunately, violence like that seen at the public hearing in Chattisgarh is not confined to Indian coal country. In Appalachia, coal industry thugs all too routinely threaten the well-being of peaceful activists opposing the destructive legacy coal has imposed on the region. This is why the Sierra Club is working to bring communities like these together to build international solidarity on the front lines of the global struggle against coal.

Ultimately, it's important to recognize the courage it took for the Chattisgarh, India, locals to oppose this project, and even more important to recognize the NGT for doing the right thing. Of course, rulings like this are just the start - enforcement is even more critical. There are already reports that the Kutch plant proceeded despite the NGT ruling and despite failing to secure requisite forest clearances. But it's clear the NGT should be applauded for this decision as well as the strong statement it sends to the coal industry in India.

Simply put, local communities will no longer be sacrificed for coal projects that displace communities, destroy environments, and pose unbearable financial risk to the country. The industry should be warned – there's a new cop on the beat.

-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Program

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