The illegal extraction of coal in Mahan forest by villagers has come to light at a time when NGOs and villagers are protesting against the impact of mining in the ecologically-sensitive area.
Local residents have dug pits on the hillside of Mahan forests to extract coal, sources in Singrauli district said. The coal reserves in Mahan forests are located in an eco-sensitive area, and the NGO Greenpeace and forest dwellers have been up in arms against mining in the area, saying it causes harm to the region’s ecology.
But local residents are continuing to illegally extract coal through shallow mines and pits. Armed with pickaxes, they dig up the area to extract coal from five to seven feet under the ground.
This is being done mainly by residents of Amiliya and Budher. After extracting the coal, they put it in jute bags, load them on bicycles or carry them on their backs to sell in nearby markets for Rs 2 to Rs 5 a kg.
This correspondent visited the area to assess the situation despite being warned by local residents to be cautious as those involved in illegal mining could turn violent.
At a forest clearing in Ghakholi, coal was being extracted by a dozen people. The area had several pits that appeared to have been freshly dug. “This is our forest and our coal. We have right over this. There is nothing wrong if we are taking a little coal out of the mines for personal use or for selling to local traders,” a villager told HT.
A villager working at the site claimed people had to pay Rs 40 to Rs 50 for every bag of coal to forest officers as a bribe. Another villager said there was a demand for coal among dhaba and brick-kiln owners.
“We generally don’t sell coal outside our villages as senior forest officials seize our bags and bicycles and penalise us,” a youngster said.
KK Gurwani, the district forest officer (DFO) of Singrauli, admitted he was aware of the illegal mining. “We take action against the villagers from time to time by seizing their coal-laden bicycles. We also fill the pits but they come and dig them up again,” he said. Gurwani said he would look into claims that villagers were bribing forest officials.
Additional principal chief conservator of forests (protection) Ravi Shrivastava said, “I will talk to the DFO of Singrauli and get more details about what is going on in the area. This is a serious issue.”
Environmentalist Praloy Bagchi said the government should look into the matter. “Even if it is on a small level, it affects the environment and is clearly a fraudulent practice. Resources like coal cannot be taken out without the required permission,” he said.
In February 2014, Mahan Coal Ltd was given the stage-II clearance by the Union forest ministry, paving the way for diverting forest land for mining. But Mahan coal block was de-allocated in August 2014 and the state government is currently responsible for protecting the forest and its resources.