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Concerns Growing over Coal Mining in Forest Areas

Coal News - Published on Mon, 10 Aug 2020

Image Source: Coal Block Auction Forrest Destruction
The Guardian reported that under a new self-reliant India plan by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, to boost the economy post-Covid-19 and reduce costly imports, 40 new coalfields in some of India’s most ecologically sensitive forests are to be opened up for commercial mining. The coal auction has already proved controversial at both the local and political level. At least seven of the coal blocks up for auction were previously deemed no go areas for mining due to their environmentally valuable status and about 80% of the blocks are home to indigenous communities and thick forest cover. Four state governments West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarhhave written to Modi in opposition or raised legal objections to the auction, and one coal block, which overlapped with the Tadoba tiger reserve in Maharashtra, has already been removed.

Among them are four huge blocks of Hasdeo Arand’s 420,000 acres of forest in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, which sit above an estimated 5 billion tonnes of coal. Five villages will be destroyed and more than 6,000 mainly indigenous people displaced, as well as thousands of hectares of trees, torn down for mines and roads. Nine village leaders recently wrote to Modi demanding a stop to the auction in Hasdeo Arand.

In 2011, two vast open-cast mines were excavated on the forest’s peripheries, ripping up the fragile land and filling the surroundings with pollution, smoke, heat, noise and poison. Crime rose drastically in the area and the elephants that lived in the forest, disoriented by the new hostile conditions, became aggressive, leading to dozens of deaths.

But India’s joint secretary for coal, Maddirala Nagaraju, said that all the country’s projections showed that demand for coal would increase and insisted that increased domestic coalmining was the cheapest way of meeting the energy needs of the people. He said “We are the country with the fourth largest coal reserves in the world and we need to provide energy security for over a billion people: coal is the only way. There would be “costly trade-offs” in opening up protected forest areas for mining, but this had the support of local communities who want the land to be acquired because they get high compensation packages. Yes, some people have objected, but the mining will bring a lot of development, employment and money to these areas. How else will we develop these Adivasi people in central India?”

Among the prominent opponents to the project is the former environment minister, Jairan Ramesh, who also wrote a letter to Modi condemning coal auctions. It was during his time in office that a survey was carried out in 2010 on India’s biggest coalfields and determined that 30% were no-go areas due to their biodiversity or resident tiger or elephant populations. Yet since Modi came to power in 2014, that 30% has been reduced to about 5%.

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Posted By : Yogender Pancholi on Mon, 10 Aug 2020
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