Coal mining operations resume in Assam elephant reserve

Operations in Tikok open cast project were temporarily suspended in June 2020 following reports of illegal mining in forestlands

March 26, 2022 09:21 pm | Updated 10:35 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: G.N. Rao

Coal mining operations have resumed in a part of eastern Assam’s Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve almost two years after they were suspended following reports of illegal mining in forestlands and protests over its ecological impact.

Union Minister of Coal, Mines and Parliamentary Affairs, Pralhad Joshi on Saturday inaugurated the resumption of the mining operations at the Tikok opencast project (OCP) of the North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of Coal India Limited.

Mining operations in Tikok and the adjoining Tirap OCP were temporarily suspended in June 2020 following reports of illegal mining in forestlands and protests over its impact on the 111.19 sq. km Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, a subtropical rainforest that was upgraded to a national park in June 2021.

The national park is part of the 937 sq. km Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve that includes the British-era collieries and oil refinery town Digboi.

Environmentalists had cried hoarse when the National Board for Wild Life had in April 2020 recommended using 98.59 hectares of a proposed reserve forest within the elephant reserve for coal mining as 57.20 hectares had already been broken up by the NEC. Protests led to the suspension of operations.

With resumption of operations, the NEC hopes to produce 4 lakh tonnes of coal per annum from two collieries — the Tikak OCP and the Tikak Extension OCP. The Tirap OCP will also start operating in a few months with a target of producing 10 lakh tonnes of coal annually.

Speaking at the official programme, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the BJP-led State government fulfilled yet another election promise with the resumption of mining operations. “But while operationalising the Tikok Colliery, we have ensured that mining activities continue in sync with nature as we are committed to maintain a balance between development and environment,” he said.

Reopening the mines, he added, was “very important for the socio-economic development of the region, which has received a major boost today”.

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