The Chhattisgarh government is seeking permission to start mining in the forests of Hasdeo Aranya Coal Field (HACF) even as a biodiversity report from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended that the area should remain untouched.
The push for a nod to start Phase-2 of mining in the Parsa (East) and Kete Basan (PEKB) coal block was recorded in a meeting of the Union Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee on October 28. Classifying it an “instant request”, the committee discussed diversion of forest land for PEKB coal block’s Phase-2 across 1,136 hectares of forests, according to a report by The Indian Express.
The PEKB coal block is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited and run by Adani Enterprises, which is the official mine developer and operator (MDO) in this venture.
According to the minutes of the October 28 meeting, the state government requested clearance based on an opinion of its advocate to undertake the same, as laws pertaining to biodiversity are being addressed in the Biodiversity Assessment Report submitted by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun.
The committee, however, deferred a decision on the issue.
However, according to the minutes, the ICFRE and state ignored red flags raised by the WII in its assessment, which was included as Volume II in the ICFRE’s report.
“The coal mines along with the associated infrastructure development would result in loss and fragmentation of habitat. Mitigating such effects on wildlife, particularly the animals with large home ranges such as elephants is seldom possible,” the WII stated in its report.
The WII stated: “Opening up of the demarcated coal blocks in the HACF would compromise the imperatives of biodiversity conservation and livelihood of forest-dependent local communities. Even the effects of the operational mines of PEKB and Chotia need to be tactfully mitigated too, wherever possible.”
“Following orders of hon. National Green Tribunal, dated 24.3.2014, the Chhattisgarh government assigned ICFRE (Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education) to conduct a bio-diversity assessment study of the entire Hasdeo Aranya on January 29, 2019,” the state government said in a statement in Hindi, adding that it had not approached the WII for a report.
According to Chhattisgarh government sources, Rajasthan, which has invested Rs 40,000 crore in thermal power projects in Chhattisgarh, had also written to it on the issue.
Another block in HACF, owned by RRVUNL, Parsa, has received forest and environment clearance, although the tribal community in the area is protesting the allocation. It received Stage II clearance on October 21, upon recommendation from the government.
Alok Shukla, the convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan who had marched with the tribals to Raipur, claimed both the state and the Centre were encouraging an environmental crisis, which even experts believed would be unmanageable. “They are ignoring the warnings, and pushing for clearances in front of the FAC. This was clearly done under corporate pressure,” he told the publication.
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