A dozen rights, social and community-based organisations wrote on Saturday to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to annul the proposed diversion of a green patch near the “Amazon of Assam” for a coal mining project. The Standing Committee of the Environment Ministry’s National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) had on April 7 discussed a proposal for transferring 98.59 hectares from the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest for a coal mining project by North-Easter Coal Field, a unit of the Coal India Limited (CIL).
Saleki is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve that includes the 111.19 sq. km. Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and several reserve forests in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts. The wildlife sanctuary is a sub-tropical rainforest often likened to Amazon.
In their memorandum, the organisations said coal mining in the ecologically sensitive protected area in Assam would threaten the rights of the indigenous communities who coexist with nature. These organisations include the Tai-Ahom Yuva Parishad, Swaraj Asom, Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha, All Assam Goria Parishad, All Assam Nath Yogi Students’ Union and All Kalita Students’ Union.
They said pursuing energy from a destructive fossil fuel encouraging scams and crime syndicates was unwise when the world has been switching to cleaner, unconventional energies.
“We understand that the mining project at Saleki has been exempted from any kind of public scrutiny by NBWL despite its close proximity to a wildlife sanctuary known for its dense forests and diverse range of plants and animals,” the joint memorandum said.
Pointing that the proposed mine was cleared without any proper environment impact study, the organisations said the local communities were kept in the dark.
“It is a well-known fact that various State and non-state actors were found mining in these forests illegally. The CIL was recently fined for mining 73 hectares inside the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve between 2003 and 2019,” the memorandum said.
“While there should have been a complete ban on any mining or industrial activity in the vicinity of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary after the fine on CIL, we are shocked that the company is being allowed to carry out mining ... the indigenous communities which depend on these forests have been left out while mining companies have been allowed inside,” it said.
This, they said, was an example of “great disregard and disrespect” towards communities living close to protected areas, which the BJP government had promised to protect when it came to power. They also referred to ‘injustice’ meted out to the communities dependent on the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary near Guwahati, who are facing eviction.
Seeking the scrapping of the proposal to divert the Saleki forest land for coal mining, the organisations asked the Prime Minister to recognise the habitat rights of all indigenous forest-dwelling communities in Assam under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
They also demanded an investigation into all cases of illegal coal and oil and gas drilling in all the protected areas including Dehing Patkai and prosecution of the accused by appointing the highest investigative agency.