For Indian who confronted mining industry, the ‘Green Nobel’

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The man walked into Ramesh Agrawal’s tiny Internet cafe, pulled out a pistol and hissed, “You talk too much.” Then he fired two bullets into Agrawal’s left leg and fled on a motorcycle.

The 2012 attack came three months after Agrawal won a court case that blocked a major Indian company, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., from opening a second coal mine near the village of Gare in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh.

For a decade, Agrawal – who has no formal legal training – has been waging a one-man campaign to educate illiterate villagers about their rights in fighting pollution and land-grabbing by powerful mining and electricity companies. He’s won three lawsuits against major corporations and has spearheaded seven more now pending in courts.

“When I started this fight, I knew I’d be a target. It will happen again. Let it happen. I’m not going anywhere,” the soft-spoken yoga enthusiast said in an interview this month in the city of Raigarh, where he moved around his modest home with a cane and a metal brace screwed into his shattered femur.

On Monday, Agrawal, 60, will be recognized in a ceremony in San Francisco as one of six recipients of this year’s $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, often called the “Green Nobel.”

Among the other winners are former corporate lawyer Helen Slottje who fought fracking – pumping chemicals and water underground to break open shale rock formations – in New York state and South Africa’s Desmond D’Sa who closed down one of the country’s largest toxic dumping sites. The award was established in 1990 with a grant from philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman to honor grass-roots environmental activists in the six regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America and Latin America.