Environmental Activist Saves One of the Largest Forests in India From Harmful Coal Mining

The biodiverse Hasdeo Aranya forests, often referred to as the “Lungs of Chhattisgarh,” are among the largest intact forest areas in India, covering an expansive 657 square miles. This vital ecosystem supports around 15,000 Indigenous Adivasi people by providing essential natural resources. The forest is a sanctuary for diverse wildlife, including elephants, tigers, and numerous unique reptiles and birds. Despite its ecological significance, the Hasdeo Aranya also harbors one of India’s largest coal reserves. In a country plagued by frequent blackouts, the forest has been eyed as a potential mining hub, posing a severe threat to its integrity. Although designated as a “no-go” zone by India’s environmental ministry, the lack of legal enforcement allowed for significant coal extraction, with over 21% of the nation’s coal originating from this region.

Several years ago, in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for 21 new mines in the forest, environmental activist Alok Shukla took a stand to protect his homeland. Growing up amidst the adverse effects of deforestation, Shukla founded the Save Hasdeo Aranya Resistance Committee. This grassroots organization mobilized the local community and harnessed the power of social media to raise awareness and oppose the mining projects. Through a variety of peaceful protests, including sit-ins, tree-hugging campaigns, and unique initiatives like encouraging couples to include #savehasdeo on their wedding invitations, the movement gained momentum. Shukla’s relentless advocacy led to a significant victory when India’s legislature unanimously voted to cancel all new mining proposals in the Hasdeo Aranya. His dedication to environmental conservation earned him the prestigious 2024 Goldman Environmental Prize, recognizing his extraordinary efforts alongside fellow winners from across the globe.

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