Madhya Pradesh police seized on Tuesday what they said were unauthorised communication equipment from a camp site of Greenpeace in Amelia village in Singrauli district, where the non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been running a high decibel anti-mining campaign.
D Kalyan Chakravarthy, the district superintendent of police, told HT over phone that the confiscated material included a high frequency wireless set and communication cables, which Greenpeace was using at its site office in Amelia without a licence or permission from local authorities.
However, the NGO said they had been given no chance to explain the possession of the equipment. "This is a clear example of how the local police are trying to harass peaceful forest rights activists," said Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India which is spearheading a campaign against Mahan Coal Ltd (MCL) - jointly owned by London-listed Essar Energy Plc and Hindalco Industries Ltd.
"We were sent a notice by the police on Monday evening asking us about the mobile phone signal booster and the solar panels we had put up in Amelia village. But instead of giving us a chance to respond to the notice, the police shockingly came on Tuesday morning, confiscating all our basic equipment, which is essential to operate in areas like Mahan which has virtually no electricity and low mobile connectivity," Pillai said.
Greenpeace found itself at the centre of a controversy last month after reports that the Intelligence Bureau had accused the NGO and other lobby groups of hurting India's economic progress by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically modified food. The group has denied the charges.
In Singrauli, local resistance to mining in one of India's most ancient forests, organised by Greenpeace, threatens to derail the coal mine project. The NGO says most villagers are opposed to the project, but the mining companies allege the group has been trying to block economic progress in the region.
A village vote, or Gram Panchayat, in Amelia supporting the MCL mine was allegedly rigged with hundreds of forged signatures, Greenpeace says.
The allegation forced district authorities to launch an inquiry and consider a fresh Gram Panchayat.
"How can we trust the promises of a fair Gram Sabha, when the police cut off communication from the rest of the world, and we had to hold the process behind a curtain?" said Priya Pillai.