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NBWL guidelines followed for mining in Assam elephant reserve: Coal PSU

North Eastern Coalfields claims nearest elephant corridor is 10 km from mining area

The North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), in the eye of a storm over an approval by the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) for mining in an elephant reserve in eastern Assam, has said it was in the process of complying with the stipulations and conditions laid down by the Environment Ministry to proceed.

The NEC, the Assam-based unit of Coal India Limited (CIL), also claimed that the area of its suspended operations in Tikak Proposed Reserve Forest is more than 10 km from the Golai-Powai elephant corridor and 9.19 km from the boundary of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, often called the ‘Amazon of Assam’ because of its subtropical rainforest.

Dehing Patkai and Saleki are under the Digboi Forest Division in Tinsukia district. These, in turn, are parts of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve along Assam’s border with Arunachal Pradesh.

The NEC clarified that coal mining operations in the Tikak open cast project has been suspended since October 2019 on the directive of the Assam Forest Department and that it was awaiting Stage II clearance from the Environment Ministry.

“Coal mining in Tikak predates India’s independence... Post-nationalisation of coal mines in 1973, Assam’s collieries were transferred to CIL for a lease period of 30 years till April 2003,” the NEC said in a statement from its headquarters in Tinsukia district’s Margherita.

“At that time the concept of mandatory forestry clearance prior to coal mining was not in vogue. Forestry clearance for coal mining was made mandatory after the notification of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, but projects already on lease were beyond the purview of the Act,” the statement said.

NEC applied for forestry clearance after the expiry of the lease in 2003. Another application was made in 2012, following which the Environment Ministry granted “in-principle Stage I clearance” in December 2019 with 28 conditions.

“One of the conditions for Stage I was obtaining clearance from NBWL. Final clearance, which is Stage II for this project, is to be granted by the Environment Ministry after fulfilment of certain conditions by NEC and only then extraction of coal can be done,” the statement said.

Following a meeting in April 2020, the principal conditions were that a site-specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with Assam Forest Department has to be submitted by NEC for the broken up forest land of around 57 hectares out of the total of 98.59 ha. Another condition was submitting a feasibility report for exploring underground mining in the remaining unbroken forest land by NEC, the user agency.

The NEC said it has not yet submitted the report to the Environment Ministry and the green signal for starting mining operations has not been received from the NBWL.

Maintaining that the area of its operation was at a safe distance from the 111.19 sq km Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary as well as a prime elephant corridor, the NEC said it has been crucial to the local economy by employing 1,200 people directly and another 3,000 indirectly.

“With a turnover of ₹405 crore annually, NEC contributes upwards of ₹100 crore to the government exchequer through the District Mineral Fund, royalty, and a slew of other taxes. This coal-producing unit of CIL also spends close to ₹10 crore annually on corporate social responsibility and other welfare activities in Assam and peripheral areas. NEC also fuels power plants, cement and tea industries, brick kilns and a host of other small industries in Assam,” the PSU claimed.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:39:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nbwl-guidelines-followed-for-mining-in-assam-elephant-reserve-coal-psu/article31690780.ece

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