Over 1 lakh trees to be felled for proposed coal mining in Odisha

Union Coal Ministry seeks expedited forest, environment clearance

Published - May 05, 2022 02:10 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

A sloth bear peeping at the photographer form behind a tree in the Himgiri forest under Sundargarh Forest Division of Odisha. Large-scale mining for coal and iron ore is posing a threat to the wild life in Sundergarh district

A sloth bear peeping at the photographer form behind a tree in the Himgiri forest under Sundargarh Forest Division of Odisha. Large-scale mining for coal and iron ore is posing a threat to the wild life in Sundergarh district | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Union Coal Ministry has sought to rush through the forest diversion process for proposed opencast coal mining, which would require the felling of more than one lakh standing trees in a reserve forest and cause significant disturbance to elephant population in Odisha’s Angul district.

Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL), a joint venture company between the Government of India and Telangana, has proposed to mine coal at Naini Coal Mine in Chhendipada Tahasli of Angul district.

The total requirement of land for the project is 912.799 ha, of which 643.095 ha are reserved forestland and 140.180 ha are village forestland. The remaining is non-forestland.

SCCL is waiting for environment and forest clearance before diverting 783.275 ha of forestland for the coalfield, which is in the south-eastern corner of the lower Gondwana basin within Mahanadi Valley.

As per the site inspection report submitted by the Angul Divisional Forest Officer, 1,05,092 trees would have to be felled in Chhendipda reserve forest, 1,087 trees in revenue forest and 327 trees in non-forestland.

Of the total number of trees to be felled, 31,248 trees have girth above 60 cm, while 74,932 have below 60 cm. Important timber species include Sal (shorea robusta), teak (tectona Grandis), Sunari (cassia fistula) and Dharua (anogeissus latifolia). Chara (buchanania), Mahula (madhuca indica) and Tentuli (tamarindus) form non-timber forest produce species.

The company has, however, been allowed to create compensatory afforestation over 1,083 ha of degraded forest (542 ha in Bankamundi reserve forest in Boudh district and 600 ha of degraded forestland in Tikhari reserve forest in Balangir district).

Threat to wildlife

The important issue flagged by the site inspection team was the threat to wild animals, especially elephants. Though the proposed area for coal mining is not part of any national park, wildlife sanctuary or biosphere, movement of wild elephants is often witnessed in the northern and southern parts of the lease area. The division wanted a detailed mitigation plan for providing a safe passage to elephants.

The reason behind the Forest Department raising the issue was that the whole area on both sides of State Highway-63 up to Deogarh division had coal reserves and many companies were likely to come in future. If an underpass was not constructed, this could lead to death of elephants in road accidents.

The Coal Ministry preempted in the matter, saying if the Odisha government was planning a get an elaborate study done, it could lead to further delay in operationalisation of the mine.

“It is understood that Odisha is considering engaging the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun for forestry research, which would take considerable time that may impact on granting environment and forest clearance to coal mines located in Angul district of Talcher Coalfields. This may adversely affect the coal production from the coal blocks in the Talcher coalfields and coalfields of Odisha,” said M. Nagaraju, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Coal, in a letter addressed to Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra.

“Coal mining plays an important role in the growth of the industrial sector in Odisha. The State accounts for India’s 24% of coal reserves, which is a crucial component of the State’s economy,” Mr. Nagaraju mentioned.

He requested the State Chief Secretary to direct the Forest Department officers to furnish their comments to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change at the earliest, instead of engaging the ICFRE for any forestry research.

According to sources, the State government was contemplating asking the Bombay Natural History Society for the study, which is likely to hasten the process.

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