Indian billionaires ambushed as Greenpeace protests coal project

By Abhishek Shanker
Bloomberg News

Greenpeace activists dressed in tiger suits climbed atop the Mumbai headquarters of Essar Group and unfurled a banner protesting a coal-mining project proposed by billionaire brothers Shashikant and Ravikant Ruia.

Twelve activists climbed the building yesterday after managing to get past security at the business group engaged in steel to oil production, while about 30 villagers and local volunteers staged a rally outside the office.

Essar, in an equal partnership with billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Hindalco Industries Ltd. (HNDL), plans to develop a coal mine in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to help feed power projects with an estimated investment of about $2 billion. Greenpeacesaid in a statement that mining operations will destroy the biodiversity of forests in the region.

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Essar, in an e-mailed statement yesterday, termed the protest at the top of its building “a blatant and anarchic act of trespass” that was intended “to spread anti-corporate, misleading and false propaganda.” It said it had contacted Mumbai police, who arrested the demonstrators and helped to clear the building.

Hindalco spokeswoman Pragnya Ram declined to comment on the demonstrators.

Villagers are opposed to any mining plan in the Mahan coal block as it would take away their livelihood, Priya Pillai, a campaigner for Greenpeace, who was part of a sit-down protest outside Ruia-owned Essar Group’s Mumbai headquarters, said in an interview.

Greenpeace is also campaigning against Veerappa Moily, India’s environment minister, who has approved stalled projects valued at 1.5 trillion rupees ($24.2 billion) in the past month since taking charge.

Environment minister

He rejected a bauxite mining plan by the London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc (VED) in the Niyamgiri Hills of the eastern state of Odisha after local tribes rejected the proposal. The remote villagers who believe their gods live in the hills drew parallels to the blue aliens of the movie ‘Avatar,’ whose existence is threatened by mining businesses.

Under the lease agreement for Mahan Coal Ltd., Essar will use 60 percent of the fuel, while Hindalco will take the remaining 40 percent, according to the venture’s website. The mine has a proven reserve of 150 million metric tons of coal, it said. Hindalco plans to draw electricity to run its 105 billion-rupee smelter.

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