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NBWL nod for coal mining in Assam elephant reserve

Amid the countrywide lockdown, the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) has recommended coal mining in a part of an elephant reserve in Assam.

The NBWL’s Standing Committee had on April 7 discussed a proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of land from the Saleki proposed reserve forest land for a coal mining project by North-Easter Coal Field (NECF), a unit of Coal India Limited.

The NBWL is under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

Saleki is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve that includes the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary covering 111.19 sq km of rainforest and several reserve forests in Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.

Panel set up

The NBWL had in July 2019 formed a committee comprising its member R. Sukumar, Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden and a representative of the local wildlife division for assessing the mining area.

In the April 7 meeting, Mr. Sukumar stated that 57.20 ha of hilly forestland had already been broken up by the user agency (NECF) and the remaining 41.39 ha was unbroken. He recommended a “cautious approach” for preserving the “basic integrity of this forested hill slope” that is a part of the elephant reserve in Assam adjoining Arunachal Pradesh’s Deomali Elephant Reserve with “a sizeable population of elephants.”

After detailed discussions, the Standing Committee “recommended for approval” the proposal for mining in the broken-up area after the user agency submits a rectified site-specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Assam Forest Department.

Compliance report

“For the unbroken area, the matter will be considered after the user agency submits a feasibility report for underground mining, and also submits compliance report regarding fulfilment of all other conditions” as recommended in a meeting on January 21, the NBWL committee said.

“What can you expect from a government that has de-fanged all environment and wildlife regulatory bodies? The recommendation reflects the disdain this government has for green assets, particularly a biodiversity hotspot to benefit the mining lobby,” Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi told The Hindu.

Dehing Patkai was notified as a wildlife sanctuary when Mr. Bordoloi, who is from the coal belt, was the Forest Minister of Assam more than a decade ago.

Activist’s charge

Green activist Rohit Choudhury said the MoEFCC overturned its own adverse remark on “rampant violation of local forest laws” in November 2019 to fast-track coal mining in the Saleki forestland.

The remark followed the local wildlife division’s report pointing to illegal coal mining in the Tikak open cast pit mining in Saleki. The division also said 4,800 metric tonnes of coal from “unauthorised breaking up” of 16 ha of the area had been seized.

“The Assam Forest Department has completely failed in protecting the biodiversity of the State and has allowed all illegal mining of coal, stone, sand, etc., violating all rules and regulations. It is obvious that there is a corrupt nexus in operation and the State Forest Minister has become a mute spectator,” Mr. Choudhury said.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 2:44:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nbwl-nod-for-coal-mining-in-assam-elephant-reserve/article31427115.ece

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