Chhattisgarh Environment Minister Mohammad Akbar has written to the central government, requesting that coal blocks in the region of Hasdeo and Mand rivers and a proposed elephant reserve area in the state not be auctioned for environmental reasons. According to experts, there are four coal blocks — Mogra South, Mogra II, Sayang, and Madanpur North — in the area out of the 41 blocks set to be auctioned for commercial mining in line with an announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.
“I request that coal blocks in the area of the Hasdeo forest and Mand rivers as well as those in the area of the proposed elephant reserve not be included in the upcoming auction,” said Akbar in a letter to the Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
Akbar said there had been an increase in incidents of elephant attacks on human habitations as a result of an increase in the population of elephants and the Chhatisgarh government had announced a 1,995-square kilometre area as the Lemru Elephant Reserve, which was also part of the area set to be allocated. He noted it was essential that mining activities in these areas be stopped for the safety of the forests and the environment in the state.
Separately, Jharkhand has moved the Supreme Court to block the auction of its coal blocks which are a part of this auction, citing the need for a fair assessment of the social and environmental impact of mining in the area as well as a poor investment climate which was unlikely to result in the states receiving fair value in the proposed auctions.
Activist and lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava also noted that the areas in Chhattisgarh contained dense forests and also areas where tribals who were previously displaced for the construction of the Bango dam on the Hasdeo river were resettled. He said that it would be a “double whammy” for these tribals to be displaced again for coal mining in the area.
Shrivastava noted that these areas had been classified as ‘no go’ zones for coal mining by the Environment Ministry. The Ministry had, in 2009, classified forest areas in the country as ‘go’ and ‘no go’ zones with mining being banned in the ‘no go’ zones. Subsequently, a government panel set up to review the efficacy and legality of forest clearance procedures had raised questions on the legality of the ban on mining in ‘no go’ zones.
Shrivastava pointed out that India had sufficiently large proven and indicated reserves of coal that densely forested areas could be excluded from coal mining. “We are in no way compromising our energy security if we exclude these densely forested areas from mining activity,” he said, noting that only 15 percent of India’s coal reserves were in dense forests.
According to the Coal Ministry, India has proven coal reserves of 148.8 billion tonnes, indicated reserves of 139.2 billion tonnes and inferred reserves of 31.1 billion tonnes. Domestic production of coal was 728.7 million tonnes and total coal imports were 235.24 million tonnes in FY19.
The Mogra II, Sayang, and Madanpur North coal blocks have previously been allocated for mining and then surrendered, while the Mogra South block has not been allocated previously. Shrivastava said the Centre should itself study proposed mining areas and obtain relevant environmental clearances so that such blocks are not allocated in the first place.