Joint Statement on Martyrdom of Shehla Masood
Though we try to share stories of inspiration and hope as much as we can, it is also our responsibility to highlight the ones that cause us much grief and sadness, especially as they remind us of the heroism with which men and women all over the world risk their lives and are sometimes are forced to give them up, for the sake of environmental or social justice.
In Asia this year, at least three environmental activists that we know of have lost their lives, and perhaps countless others that we may never get to hear about in mainstream media. Dr Gerry Ortega was killed in January 2011 this year in the Philippines for anti-mining protests and campaigning for the Palawan community’s share in the Malampaya natural gas project. In Thailand, Thongnak Chewakchinda lost his life in July 2011 for his high-profile protests against the persistent problem of air pollution from dust and fumes from coal depots and separation factories.
When India’s attention was focused on the arrest of anti-corruption campaigner, Anna Hazare; a quiet and swift decimation of a heroic life was effected in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh (Central India). Shehla Masood, an wildlife conservationist, environmental campaigner and an RTI (Right to Information) activist was shot dead outside her home by an unidentified assailant on 16th August, 2011. She was leaving to attend a demonstration supporting Anna Hazare. She had been raising a lot of questions about Rio Tinto’s mining activities, and was seeking to save the watershed of the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Shyamri River in Madhya Pradesh.
We share here the statement made by Toxics Watch Alliance which will be submitted to the Indian central and state governments, relevant committees and agencies.
Please send an email to the signatories mentioned below the statement, and/or leave a comment here endorsing this.
And somewhere, somehow, we must all see a connection with tragic events like this to our own mindless consumption. As the Indian middle class becomes wealthier, consumption of gold and diamonds is ever on the rise. Do we ever question what the real and hidden costs to it are?
Joint Statement on Martyrdom of Shehla Masood (for your endorsement)
16 August, 2011
“I am proud to be an Indian. Happy Independence Day.”
Shehla Masood, 15 August, 2011
Gandhi “the purpose of civil resistance is provocation”. Anna has succeeded in provoking the Govt and the Opposition. Hope he wins us freedom from corruption. Meet at 2 pm Boat Club Bhopal”
Shehla Masood, 16 August, 2011 – Her last Facebook update a few minutes before her martyrdom
Shehla Masood, a Madhya Pradesh based civil rights and environmental rights activist was was shot dead by an unidentified person in front of her residence in Koh-e-Fiza locality in Bhopal around 11 AM on 16th August, 2011.
We the undersigned are aghast at the irony that tigers, tribals, trees and civil rights and environmental rights activists are being hunted and killed in the same manner.
We demand that the possible connection between her murder and her raising the issue of illegal Diamond mining project in Chhattarpur district, Madhya Pradesh by Rio Tinto, a transnational mining company headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange must be investigated along with other suspicions by a high level probe team. (Factsheet on Rio Tinto’s illegal mining activity given below).
She was active to save the watershed of the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Shyamri River, one of the cleanest in the country from Rio Tinto’s mining activity along with other activists.
We suspect that the considered timing of her elimination during the ongoing anti-corruption campaign when she was on her way to support Anna Hazare’s fast is meant to overshadow the issue of illegal Diamond mining project in Chhattarpur district, Madhya Pradesh by Rio Tinto and the political Mafiosi.
The mining block is inside a forest which is the northernmost tip of the best corridor of teak forests south of the Gangetic plain. It is an established law that mining is non-forestry activity. There is an immediate need for a probe to determine who allowed the mining to take place in such an ecologically fragile area.
The Bunder mine project, near the city of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, about 500 kilometres south-east of Delhi, is likely to be one of the largest diamond reserves in the world. It is estimated that there is a ”inferred resource” of 27.4 million carats, a diamonds resource seven times richer than the Panna mine, country’s only working diamond mine.
A statement dated March 22, 2011 was laid in the Parliament (Lok Sabha) on “need to review the diamond mining project in district Chhattarpur, Madhya Pradesh posing serious threat to environment in the region”.
We have learnt from senior journalists that two Collectors have been transferred to facilitate the ongoing illegal mining and the fact that the new Collector has allowed mining which came to light when a PIL was filed stating that Rio Tinto has been carrying on exploitation of mineral resources in Chattarpur district violating the prescribed provisions.
Prior to the statement in the Lok Sabha, on March 10, 2011, the FOREST ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING of Ministry of Environment & Forests listed Agenda no. 6 on “ Prospecting of diamond at 143 additional locations in 2329.75 ha. forest land located in 18 compartments in Buxwaha Range in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh by M/s Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited. [File No. 8-49/2006-FC-(Vol.)]” to discuss it but did not do so stating, “Due to paucity of time the proposal could not be discussed during the meeting”.
We had written to the Union Environment Minister and Parliamentary Petitions Committee separately drawing its attention towards Madhya Pradesh High Court’s notices to the Centre and the state government on illegal mining of diamonds by international mining companies. The court had asked both the governments to reply in this matter within four weeks. Considering the act of illegal mining as a serious offence, a double bench of Chief Justice Sayed Rafat Alam and Justice Sushil Harkauli criticised the Forest Departments, Mining Secretaries of the state as well as the Centre and issued notices against them in addition to the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board and Chattarpur Collector.
We take cognisance of the fact that Corporate Watch, a London based group had chosen Rio Tinto to award it for its display of heinous, misguided, and altogether anti-social behaviour over the last ten years in 2010.
We take note of ‘Rio Tinto: the Tainted Titan,’ the Stakeholders Report, www.cfmeu.asn.au, 1997, which states “It’s (Rio Tinto’s) activities in some of the wildest and the most pristine places in the world and their impact on the environment of those places, the people who live there, the life-style of the indigenous people and also its corporate culture, are subjects of real concern.”
We submit that Rio Tinto project is threatening unique forest resources in the area affected by the mine in Chhattarpur, MP. In this context, it may be noted that Roger Moody, a veteran journalist in his book Plunder, describes Rio Tinto’s activities as ranging from “brow-beating opponents, leaning on governments and price-fixing, to violating international law, union-busting and management of one of the world’s biggest commodity cartels”. His book outlines numerous examples of its environmental irresponsibility.
It is germane to recollect what Sir Roderick Carnegie, as Chairman Rio Tinto-Zinc (RTZ) had said at its 1984 shareholders’ meeting: “The right to land depends on the ability to defend it”.
We salute the struggle and martyrdom of Shehla Masood who defended our forests, rivers, land and wildlife in the face of unscrupulous corporate assault in nexus with ruling political regimes.
Shehla Masood used to conclude her messages with a proud “Roarrrrr” that cannot be silenced by the bullets of her assailants.
Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), New Delhi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prakash K Ray, Jawaharlal Nehru University Researchers Association (JNURA), New Delhi (email@example.com)
Fact sheet on Rio Tinto, Chhattarpur, Madhya Pradesh
May, 2004: ACC Rio Tinto of Australia, De Beers of South Africa, BHP Minerals of Canada and the National Mineral Development Corporation are set to start survey and exploration of diamond mines in the Panna, Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh, Sagar, Angor and Majhgawan areas of the state. ACC Rio Tinto has been issued four reconnaissance permits for 10,000 sq km area in the Panna Damoh and Chhatarpur districts.
2004: Rio Tinto discovered a significant diamond deposit in Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.
2006: Rio Tinto was given the prospecting licence
17 January 2007: Bunder Project is a proposed new diamond mine , located at Janpad Panchayat Buxwaha, Tehsil Buxwaha, District, Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh. If the project is approved and proves viable, it could be the “first significant world class diamond mine in India”, according to the Rio Tinto Group, who have proposed the mine. The foundation of the plant was inaugurated by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan on 17 January 2007. Government accorded pollution clearance certificate by its letter no. 213/EPCO/SEIAA/08 dated 22.11.08 for DMS plant.
July 2007: Australian multinational mining company, Rio Tinto has applied for prospecting license for locating diamond area in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna and Chhatarpur districts. Diamond Officer J S Solanki said Rio Tinto has discovered a ‘Kimerlite Pipe Line’ at Bakswaha in Chhatarpur and Amjhiria and Rampur in Panna district. The company has applied for prospecting license. After receiving no objection certificate (NOC) from the forest department, the application would be forwarded to the state government. The company would begin its work as soon as it receives permission from the government. National Mines Development Corporation (NDMC) has also started surveying the area in view of new possibilities.
23 June 2008: Rio Tinto announced on 23rd June that it had filed for a mining lease to proceed with the project. They are also waiting permission from the pollution control board for a Dense Media Separation Plant which would allow samples taken from the mine to be processed on location.
December 2008: Rio Tinto has discovered diamond deposit in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. Rio Tinto Diamond – one of the largest producers of rough diamond – has sought the mining lease from state government for running its commercial business in Chhatarpur, he added. Chhatarpur is the second district after Panna in the state where diamond deposit was discovered. They were expecting 30 million carats of diamond deposit in Chhatarpur and the state government is hopeful of getting Rs 100 crore royalty from this project’s commercial production. Rio Tinto would begin mining diamonds using latest technology. Rio Tinto has put in around USD 25 million in exploring and discovering the diamond deposit. The firm was exploring diamond reserve for well over four years and eventually discovered it some months ago. Rio Tinto is the first in the last five years which has got prospecting license for diamond exploration in India.
August 2009: Virbhadra Singh, India’s Steel Minister said that National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) is exploring for diamond reserves in the Chattarpur District. “We have requested the Madhya Pradesh government to allow NMDC to explore more areas adjoining the Panna mines so that the area could emerge as a diamond hub. Moreover, Chattarpur district is also rich in diamond reserves,” he said. Maintaining that this would attract investments in diamond cutting and polishing
2010: The presence of diamond deposits has been detected in Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh during an aerial survey by an Australian company. “The process for granting permission for a land survey to confirm the presence of diamonds is underway”. Diamonds were earlier found in Panna district, which is close to Chhattarpur. Australia’s Rio Tinto Exploration Company had been carrying out aerial surveys for diamonds over the past three years in the northeastern part of the state. The central government had given permission to the Australian firm for such surveys.
31st August, 2010: The second largest mining company of the world Rio Tinto has began production of diamonds from its Bunder Diamond project at Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh. “Rio Tinto has commenced production and bulk sampling at Mumbai diamond auctions,” said SK Mishra, MP Mining and Mineral Secretary. The company has so far invested about Rs 250 crore and mining lease had been offered on 475 hectares. Rio Tinto was given prospecting licence for the project in 2006. The company will gradually scale up investment and will cover 5,000 hectares over a period and the investment is expected to touch Rs 2,500 crore. Madhya Pradesh’s Additional Chief Secretary (Commerce, Industry and Employment), Satya Prakash said, the company will invest Rs 370 crore over the next three years. The state government has also earmarked 280 acres near Indore for a diamond park for value addition like cutting, polishing and jewellery. MP is the only diamond producing state with prospect of 1200 thousand carats of diamond reserve.
November 2010: Environmentalists and conservationists raise serious objections about the Madhya Pradesh government giving full support to global diamond giant Rio Tinto’s Indian subsidiary planning commercial mining of diamonds in an eco-sensitive zone close to the Panna tiger reserve. Tiger expert Valmik Thapar, asked about Rio Tinto’s Bunder diamond project in Chhatarpur district, a few kilometers from the Panna reserve’s western border, said: “It’s an example of a completely dysfunctional system of government from top to bottom.” He said that if Panna were to recover (the loss of all its tigers), it would need at least another 10 years of complete protection of surrounding forests and (their) connecting corridors. Asked about Rio Tinto’s plan to start commercial diamond mining in an area which is also the watershed for the Panna reserve and the Shyamri river, considered one of the cleanest in the country, Thapar said the water regime was also essential for life and no water resource should be negated by those bent on commercial exploitation of mineral resources in forest areas. Almost 99 per cent of the Bunder diamondiferous block is inside a forest which is the northernmost tip of the best corridor of teak forests south of the Gangetic plain. “It is an established law that mining is non-forestry activity — if pitting is involved, prospecting is also mining activity,” a senior state forest officer said, adding that a probe was needed to determine on what grounds clearance to prospect in this area was given in the first place.
March 10, 2011: PROCCEDINGS OF THE FOREST ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING of Ministry of Environment & Forests refer to Agenda no. 6 on “ Prospecting of diamond at 143 additional locations in 2329.75 ha. forest land located in 18 compartments in Buxwaha Range in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh by M/s Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited. [File No. 8-49/2006-FC-(Vol.)]” It states, “Due to paucity of time the proposal could not be discussed during the meeting”.
March 22, 2011: Jeetendra Singh Bundela, MP from Khajuraho laid a statement in Lok Sabha on “need to review the diamond mining project in district Chhattarpur, Madhya Pradesh posing serious threat to environment in the region.”
April 2011: Rio Tinto applied for a mining licence for what could be the largest diamond mine in India. The global mining giant is carrying out pre-feasibility exploration at the Bunder Mine project near Chhattarpur in Madhya Pradesh. The mine can have reserves of 27.4 million carats, making it the largest diamond find in the last 10 years in the world. The Bunder mine is likely to hold resources seven times more than Panna, the only operating diamond mine in the country. It is estimated that the grade of the Bunder reserves is 0.7 carats per tonne. Diamond traders in Delhi estimated the value of the roughs at $4-5 billion.
The grant of the licence to Rio may get delayed as environment activists have filed a case against the firm in Madhya Pradesh High Court. The company claims that it is fully compliant with all laws, including environmental norms. The domestic diamond processing industry generates revenues of more than Rs 70,000 crore annually but is facing a shortage of 30 per cent in its requirement of roughs. Rio, a Reliance Industries’ subsidiary has been prospecting for diamond in the country. The Reliance subsidiary holds a prospecting licence for about 1800 sq km spread over Rewa, Siddhi and Satna in Madhya Pradesh.
9th April, 2011: Madhya Pradesh High Court issued notices to the Centre and the state government on illegal mining of diamonds by international mining companies. The court has asked both the governments to reply in this matter within four weeks. Considering the act of illegal mining as a serious offence, a double bench of Chief Justice Sayed Rafat Alam and Justice Sushil Harkauli rapped the Forest Departments, Mining Secretaries of the state as well as the Centre and issued notices against them in addition to the MP Pollution Control Board and Chattarpur Collector. The issue of illegal diamond mining came to light when a PIL was filed by a social activist. The PIL stated that an Australian mining company, Rio Tinto, has been carrying on exploitation of mineral resources in Chattarpur district violating the prescribed provisions. The PIL said that under Section 2 of the Forest Preservation Act, permission from the Central government is required to carry on mining trade in any part of India. Other than this, a no objection certificate (NOC) from Pollution Control Board is mandatory. The counsel of the petitioner, Vipin Yadav, told the court that the Collector of Chattarpur had written a letter to the Revenue Department in this context, but no action was taken. Yadav added, “This proves that the officials of Forest and Revenue departments are working hand-in-hand and foreign companies are making profit at the cost of our country’s natural resources.”
25th July, 2011: A letter on Illegal Diamond mining project in district Chhattarpur, MP was submitted to the Parliamentary Petitions Committee by ToxicsWatch Alliance.
Subsequent to this a letter was sent to Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan by Shehla Masood on 25 July, 2011. She had also filed Right to Information application in this regard.
16 August, 2011: Shehla Masood killed in Bhopal
Further links you may be interested in:
Latest news on Shehla Masood on RTI Happenings Website.
Facebook Event : Silent Support to Shehla Masood, Sunday August 21 2011
An interview on OUTLOOK India a month before her death:
Long pushing for protection of whistle-blowers, Shehla Masood might have made her point most forcefully in death. She had long learned to live with threats to her life, as she revealed in the last interview before she died. Excerpts:How difficult is it for a whistle-blower to function?
I was threatened by local MLA Vishwas Sarang because I exposed corruption relating to forest produce. He sent me a court notice just to put me under pressure. I exposed Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s expenditure on household entertainment which ran into lakhs every month. The money was spent on chaat, sweets, lunches, bouquets, telephone bills and mobile bills. I was threatened by principal information officer (general administrative department) Aruna Gupta. She wrote a letter to the information commissioner saying I had stolen some records and lodged an FIR against me. It was a blatant lie because when she was asked to furnish details of the records stolen from her office, she failed to give anything. She was served with a showcause notice. I was also threatened by the protocol officer of the CM’s house, Sanjay Chauhan, because I exposed how lakhs were spent on sitting judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The money was spent on their stay in luxury hotels and travel. I also drew attention towards the 12 serving judges who were involved in corruption. These judges came to the wedding of the son of principal secretary (law) in December 2010 and the expenses were borne by the state government. I draw strength from these threats. But at the same time, I realise that the government is not serious in protecting whistle-blowers. I believe this is because of political pressure. There is no political will to fight corruption. And I am sorry to say that there is very little unity among the activists as they also have vested interests.
How does one work in this situation?
See, I am being constantly threatened. I was threatened by Pawan Shrivastava (currently IG, police training institute, Indore) in 2008. He is thoroughly corrupt. His proximity with politicians allows him to commit deeds which are immoral and against the law. He is a perpetual law offender. He is close to a few RSS leaders and to the vice-president of BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit, Anil Dave. I filed an RTI application in 2008 to gather information on the tender process adopted by the cultural department. The day I filed it, Pawan Srivastava called me on my mobile and not only threatened me with dire consequences but also abused me. I have recorded part of his conversation which corroborates my claim. However, that recording and complaints to senior police officers and to Union home minister P. Chidambaram have hardly helped me. I fear for my life. But I will continue working and carry on.
What issues are you fighting for?
I’m fighting for good governance, transparency, police reforms and environmental issues like tiger conservation. I’ve been using the RTI Act since 2005 as a tool to collect evidence. It is the nexus between politicians and babus which is slowly poisoning our country. The fight is between the powerful and weak and I represent the weakest and the poorest of society.
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