Alok Shukla wins Goldman Prize or ‘Green Nobel’ for Hasdeo Aranya campaign

Hasdeo movement, spearheaded by Shukla, a model for environmental justice in India, says Goldman Foundation

Alok Shukla, convenor of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan and founding member of the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, has been awarded the 2024 Goldman Prize from Asia, a statement on April 29 said.

Shukla has been declared winner for his efforts to save the forests of Hasdeo Aranya in Chhattisgarh.

“Alok Shukla led a successful community campaign that saved 445,000 acres of biodiversity-rich forests from 21 planned coal mines in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. In July 2022, the government cancelled the 21 proposed coal mines in Hasdeo Aranya, whose pristine forests—popularly known as the lungs of Chhattisgarh—are one of the largest intact forest areas in India,” the statement noted.

The Goldman Environmental Foundation, which gives away the prize, recognised that the Hasdeo movement’s “ability to successfully influence policy has made it a model for environmental justice in India and generated an unprecedented amount of national and regional solidarity”.

Saving pristine forest

Hasdeo, spread across 657 square miles, is one of India’s most extensive contiguous forest tracts.

“The ancient forests provide a critical tiger corridor linking neighboring sanctuaries and habitat for approximately 50 endangered Asian elephants. They are also home to 25 endangered species, including leopards, sloth bears, grey wolves, striped hyenas; 92 bird species, such as white-eyed buzzard; and 167 rare and medicinal plant species,” according to the statement.

Hasdeo’s forests are also a catchment area for the Hasdeo river, a tributary of the Mahanadi. The river serves as the watershed for the Hasdeo Bango reservoir, irrigating 741,000 acres of farmland.


“The state of Chhattisgarh, 44 per cent of which is forested, has India’s third largest concentration of forests. Additionally, nearly 15,000 Adivasi—Indigenous peoples—depend on the Hasdeo Aranya forests for their livelihood, cultural identity, and sustenance,” it added.

Hasdeo Aranya sits on top of one of India’s largest coal reserves—some 5.6 billion tons. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, under the previous United Progressive Alliance government (UPA-II), had declared Hasdeo a “no-go” zone in recognition of their vast biodiversity in 2010.

“…but the declaration was never formalised into law and successive governments have attempted to jumpstart mining operations. Between 2011 and 2015, India’s Adani Enterprises—a powerful multinational mining corporation—received permissions to develop five coal mines in the forests,” the Goldman Environmental Foundation statement said.

‘A natural leader’

The statement called Shukla a ‘natural leader’, who had “witnessed the profound environmental and social devastation wrought by extractive industries” in his formative years in Chhattisgarh.

“Acutely aware of unsustainable resource extraction, he decided to dedicate his life to protecting the water, forests, and land of central India, as well as supporting Adivasi tribes, which are the traditional stewards of the land,” it added.

Alok first learned about plans to auction coal blocks in Hasdeo’s forests in late 2011. He realised that the affected communities had little information about the mining process or awareness of their existing legal rights and began advising them on potential legal strategies and tactics.

The statement noted that earlier opposition by Adivasis to the projects had been somewhat ‘disorganised’ and hence, two mines were brought online around 2010.

Shukla, through his efforts, brought all stakeholders in the struggle to save Hasdeo on a common platform in 2012, when the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti was founded.

Protests by locals stalled the process of coal block auctions in June 2020. In December that year, the Centre invoked emergency provisions to move 21 coal blocks forward.

Shukla organised villagers that year, when the COVID-19 lockdown was in place, to protest against the 21 proposed coal mines.

“In October 2020, he led local villagers to lobby the village legislative councils to designate 945,000 acres as the Lemru elephant reserve, protecting the elephant corridor and its boundaries from planned coal mines,” the statement noted.

Three mines were withdrawn from public auction in September 2020, in the face of sustained protests by locals in the area.

“…after a 10-day, 166-mile protest march to the state capital of Raipur in October 2021 alongside 500 villagers, an additional 14 mines were canceled,” it recounted.

In the spring months of 2022, villagers began an indefinite sit-in and launched tree-hugging protests against the felling of 300 trees that had been cleared for the proposed mines.

In July 2022, the state legislature adopted a resolution against mining in the entire Hasdeo Aranya region and demanded cancellation of any existing allocations.

The Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded by the Goldman Environmental Foundation. The Prize was founded by Richard and Rhonda Goldman in 1989. It recognises grassroots environmental leaders from six regions — Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South and Central America and lastly, islands and island nations. The winners are selected by an international jury and awarded $200,000 as prize money.

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