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Gauhati High Court seeks coordinates of coal mining area in Assam elephant reserve

Elephants with their young ones near Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tinsukia. File

Elephants with their young ones near Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tinsukia. File | Photo Credit: PTI

GUWAHATI: The Gauhati High Court has sought the coordinates of the areas where coal mining operations in an eastern Assam elephant reserve were resumed in March after almost a two-year gap.

The North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of Coal India Limited, had in June 2020 suspended operations in Tinsukia district’s Tikak open cast project 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 nebulous 937 sq. km Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve that includes the British-era collieries, oil refinery town Digboi and numerous tea estates.

Hearing a set of petitions by green activists Mrinmoy Khataniar and Amar Jyoti Deka on May 17, the High Court’s acting Chief Justice N. Kotiswar Singh asked the Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia district to file an affidavit justifying “as to the authority under which such mining is taking place” in Tikak.

“The affidavit may be supplemented by the coordinates of the mining area so as to make it specific as to the geographical location of the mining area where the mining is taking place,” the court’s order said while directing the State government to file an updated affidavit indicating the actions taken so far.

The petitioners had submitted that the State authorities allowed mining of coal in Tikak, which was contrary to the direction of the Supreme Court and of the Environment Ministry. The mining, they said, was “absolutely unauthorised”.

The court fixed June 3 as the next date of hearing.

Environmentalists had cried hoarse when in April 2020, the National Board for Wild Life 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.

The NEC has a target of producing 4 lakh tonnes of coal per annum from two collieries – the Tikak open cast project and the Tikak extension open cast project. Plans are afoot to soon start the Tirap open cast project nearby for upping the coal production to 10 lakh tonnes annually.

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Printable version | May 19, 2022 2:06:13 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/gauhati-high-court-seeks-coordinates-of-coal-mining-area-in-assam-elephant-reserve/article65429434.ece