Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Was Shehla shot for fighting illegal diamond mines?
NAGPUR: "The purpose of civil resistance is provocation. Anna has succeeded in provoking the government and the opposition. Hope he wins us freedom from corruption. Meet at 2 pm at Boat Club, Bhopal."
This was Shehla Masood's message on Tuesday, minutes before she was shot dead. Shehla, a Madhya Pradesh-based civil and environmental rights' activist was shot dead by an unidentified person in front of her residence in Koh-e-Fiza locality in Bhopal around 11 am on August 16.
The brutal murder of Shehla exposes the fate of those protesting illegal mining and fighting to save tigers and forests. "The government did nothing after RTI activist Amit Jethawa's murder in Gujarat and hence we lost Shehla now," remarked Kishor Rithe, president of Satpuda Foundation.
A day before, Shehla said, "I'm proud to be an Indian. Happy Independence Day." The next day she was shot dead. Wildlife activists and environmentalists are aghast at the irony that tigers, tribals, trees and civil and environmental rights activists are being hunted and killed.
They fear that the possible connection between Shehla's murder and her raising the issue of illegal diamond mining project in Chhattarpur in Madhya Pradesh by Rio Tinto, a transnational mining company headquartered in the United Kingdom.
Shehla fought to save tigers and forests. In September 2010, her NGO Udai had launched a massive signature campaign in MP against killing of the Jurjuria tigress in Bandhavgarh reserve on May 18, 2010. She demanded the arrest of the culprits, who were influential persons. She was also keen to save the watershed of the Panna tiger reserve and the Shyamri, one of the cleanest rivers in the country from Rio Tinto's mining activity.
"The timing of her elimination when she was on her way to support Anna Hazare's fast was meant to overshadow the issue of illegal diamond mining project in Chhattarpur by Rio Tinto and the political mafia," a section of activists feared.
The diamond 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 mining to take place in such an ecologically fragile area.
The Bunder mine project, near Chhatarpur, 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, the country's only working diamond mine.
On March 22, 2011, the need to review the diamond mining project in Chhattarpur which is posing serious threat to environment in the region was raised in the Lok Sabha.
Two district collectors were transferred to facilitate the ongoing illegal mining. The fact that the new collector has allowed mining came to light when a PIL was filed stating that Rio Tinto has been exploiting mineral resources in Chattarpur by violating provisions.
Shehla was fighting against mining activity. On January 19, 2010, she had filed a complaint with the DGP of MP, accusing IPS officer Pawan Shrivastava of making threatening calls to her. Shrivastava was harassing her for the past two years, Shehla stated in her letter. She also feared threat to her life from Shrivastava but the police did not act.
"We salute the struggle and martyrdom of Shehla who defended our forests, rivers, land and wildlife in the face of the unscrupulous corporate assault in nexus with the ruling political regimes," the activists stressed.
Shehla used to conclude her messages with a proud "Roarrrrr" that can't be silenced by the bullets of her assailants. Her murder exposes how government power is used to kill whistle blowers and RTI activists.
"We strongly condemn this murder of our fellow activist. It seems that we are not safe," said Rithe.