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Cry for coal mining ban in Assam forest gets shriller

Elephants near Dehing Patkai Wild Life Sanctuary in Tinsukia. File

Elephants near Dehing Patkai Wild Life Sanctuary in Tinsukia. File

After 12 rights and community-based organisations, a conglomerate of green groups has sought a ban on coal mining in a sensitive elephant reserve in eastern Assam as a Right to Information (RTI) application revealed a substantial chunk of “unbroken” forest land has already been mined and cleared.

Also read: Annul diversion of green patch near “Amazon of Assam” for 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 of land from the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF) for an open-cast coal mining project by North-Easter Coal Field (NECL), a unit of Coal India Limited.

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.

Conservation NGO Aaranyak on Saturday asked the Assam government to go for phase-wise scrapping of coal mining in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve notified in 2003 by creating alternative livelihood opportunities for local people who had been dependent on legal coal mining. It also advised the promotion of greener energy options.

The Assam Environmental NGO Forum, comprising 20 other groups, sought a complete ban as the elephant reserve has already been severely damaged. “It no longer matters if the ongoing mining is legal or illegal in view of clear evidence of habitat destruction,” it said in a statement.

Also read: NBWL nod for coal mining in Assam elephant reserve

A drone video shot by one of the green NGOs pointed to large-scale denudation of the Naphai Reserve Forest within the elephant reserve.

‘Faulty NBWL claim’

An RTI application filed by eastern Assam-based environmental activist Rohit Choudhury shows that the NBWL had concealed the ground reality of Saleki PRF, 98.59 hectares of which has been proposed to be diverted for the Tikok open-cast coal mining project.

The NBWL had granted post facto approval for 57.20 ha of forest land that NECL had already broken up and mined while marking the remaining 41.39 ha as unbroken, or untouched.

But data received by Mr. Choudhury revealed that 16 ha or the “unbroken” forest land has already been mined and cleared of trees while the Tikok project falls within the eco-sensitive zone (10 km radius) of the 111.19 sq km Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

“...the area of 41.39 ha claimed to be unworked/fresh area has also been broken of which 9 ha was mined and another 7 ha was cleared perhaps for further mining... it is confirmed that as on date the area of the unbroken area stands at approximately 25 ha,” said the site inspection report submitted by the regional office of the Environment Ministry four months prior to the NBWL meeting.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 11:31:40 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/cry-for-coal-mining-ban-in-assam-forest-gets-shriller/article31664228.ece