‘No-Go’ forests cleared for coal mining, says report

CSE probe finds criteria tweaked to auction blocks in dense forests.

Updated - August 18, 2020 10:48 pm IST

Published - August 18, 2020 10:31 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Representational Image

Representational Image

Since 2015, of the 49 blocks cleared for coal mining, nine were in ‘No-Go’ areas, or regions that were once classified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change as containing very dense forests and hence closed to coal mining. In 2020, of the 41 blocks put up for auction, 21 feature in the original No-Go list, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said at a webinar on Tuesday.

The meeting was organised to present results of an investigation into coal block auctions.

On June 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining through video-conference. A two stage e-auction is being adopted for the allocation of mines. The decision was part of the announcements made by the Centre under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

Though new blocks were being auctioned, the CSE investigation, published in the organisation-owned magazine Down To Earth (DTE), pointed out that currently India was not utilising its existing capacity fully and that a Right To Information response by the Union Coal Ministry revealed that 67% of the mines auctioned since 2015 are were not operational yet. From 2015-2020, the government tried to auction 112 mines, but succeeded in only 42 cases.

Several potential coal reserves are located in dense forests particularly in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The government determined which of them were too ecologically important to leave untouched and which amenable to be opened up using a ‘decision support system software’ that rated forest lands on environmental parameters. In some cases, the CSE investigation found that results of the software evaluation were “tweaked” to make ‘No-Go’ land into ‘Go-forests’. It also found that officials from the Coal Ministry, the beneficiary organisation, were “deputed” to work with the Forest Survey of India to “rework” conditions and clear forests for mining.

DTE editor and CSE Director-General Sunita Narain said in a statement: “Our forests are where our coal reserves are — forests and coal are intrinsically linked in India. And our poorest people live in these areas, which also hold our most abundant watersheds. If at all we must mine coal, which itself has serious pollution implications, we need to do so after careful consideration that we have taken utmost care not to destroy forests needlessly and this means the need to optimise on current mines — not mine more”.

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