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August 14, 2013

Activists Against Coal Arrested In India

 

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Activists from 350.org protest outside of GVK meeting

In India, the grassroots fight to move the country beyond coal is going strong, but it’s not always smooth sailing.

On August 12, grassroots activists from 350.org, the Indian Youth Climate Network, the National Alliance of People's Movements, and the Animal Rehabilitation and Protection Front gathered in Hyderabad, India outside GVK’s Annual General Meeting to urge the Indian energy conglomerate and its investors to stop dirty coal imports and to speak out against their ill-advised investments in Australian coal. The activists wanted to remove the blinders from GVK’s shareholders, and to highlight what a risky choice the company is making by investing in coal mines in Australia.

GVK’s investments would go toward an alpha coal project (a combination of coal mines, ports and railway lines) smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Site, one of the world’s most famous natural wonders with extremely sensitive ecology. This project is not only harmful to the environment, it’s also harmful to public health. Coal power plants kill 120,000 people each year in India, and many more people worldwide. Coal-fired power plants release dangerous pollutants like soot, smog and sulfur dioxide, which increase the frequency of asthma attacks and emergency room visits.

But these health and environmental risks aren’t the only problems with the project. According to a recent report commissioned by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, the investment in this project -- billions of dollars -- is risky because there’s a good chance that the project might fall through. The report accurately described the project as “a quagmire, not an investment.”

But what effect does this bad investment have on us as American citizens?

Although the United States’ own Export-Import Bank has been tight-lipped about the connection, the taxpayer-backed lender has been linked to funding this dangerous and risky project.

Meanwhile the Australian Government has delayed a final decision for the second time on their project to build one of the world’s largest coal terminals in the Great Barrier Reef, claiming that they need more information.  

This hasn’t stopped concerned citizens from protesting in India this week at GVK’s meeting. Led by Chaitanya Kumar of 350.org, the activists displayed posters showing the ill effects of coal pollution in India and distributed pamphlets to shareholders. The activists also held solar panels above their heads, symbolizing clean energy, a more sound investment for GVK and other energy and infrastructure companies.

The demonstration was non-violent, yet within a half an hour, police gathered in the area and told people to move out. Activists were told they weren’t allowed to protest in that space, and some were eventually arrested. One activist captured video of the arrests. Still, the arrests won’t hold these activists back from standing up for their communities. A bad investment for GVK is also a bad investment for the Export-Import Bank of the United States, hardworking American taxpayers, the health of millions, and the environment.

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Program

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