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The moment Alok Shukla first saw the forest in central India stretching out before him, he knew two things instantly.

One: that this forest – known as the lungs of Chhattisgarh, home to thousands of tribespeople, endangered animals and rare plants – was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen.

And two: that he would dedicate his life to stopping the multi-billion dollar companies hoping to uproot it in search of the coal beneath its soil.

The only question was, how?

Twelve years later, Alok can smile at the memory. After all, what he has achieved in the intervening years has been impressive.

On Monday, the 43-year-old was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, otherwise known as the green Nobel.

But it started with small steps.

Back in 2012, the Hasdeo Aranya forest in Chhattisgarh state and its 657 bio-diversity rich square miles (1,071km sq) were under threat, thanks to its massive coal deposits – totalling an estimated 5.6 billion tonnes.

In India, the world’s second largest consumer of coal after China, those deposits are a highly valuable commodity.

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