Illegal extraction of coal in Mahan forest of Madhya Pradesh by local residents has come to light at a time when NGOs and villagers are protesting the impact of mining in the ecologically-sensitive area.
Local residents have dug shallow mines and pits to extract coal, sources in Singrauli district said. The coal reserves in Mahan forest are located in an eco-sensitive area, and the NGO Greenpeace and people of the area have been opposing mining, saying it harms the ecology.
But some local residents, armed with pickaxes, are continuing to illegally extract coal from five to seven feet under the ground. This is done mainly by residents of Amiliya and Budher. After extracting the coal, they put it in jute bags and load them on bicycles or carry them on their backs to sell in nearby markets for R2 to R5 a kg.
This correspondent visited the area to assess the situation despite being warned by people to be cautious as those involved in illegal mining could turn violent.
At a forest clearing in Ghakholi, coal was being taken out by a dozen people. The area had several tunnels and pits that appeared to have been freshly dug.
"This is our forest and our coal. We have a 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 a bribe of R40 to R50 for every bag of coal to forest officers. Another villager said there was a demand for coal at 'dhabas' and brick-kilns.
"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 dug by the villagers but they come and dig them up again," he said.