Leading environment campaign group Greenpeace on Wednesday demanded immediate moratorium on forest clearances for coal mining, exclusion of all wildlife, forest corridors and areas inhabited by endangered species from existing coal fields and exclusion from coal mining areas of forest with high livelihood dependence.
"No forest clearance must be granted without both the union ministry of environment and forest and ministry of tribal affairs first ensuring that the Forest Rights Act is implemented in letter and spirit," Ashish Fernandes, campaigner, Greenpeace, said here while releasing a report, "How Coal Mining Is Thrashing Tigerland".
The report, authored by Fernandes, says the biggest threat to the long-term survival of the Royal Bengal Tiger – India’s national animal – is coal mining and related infrastructure in its largest contiguous landscape, Central India.
"As India’s national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger has been a conservation priority for current and past governments, yet the coal boom created by the government would ravage a large part of Central India’s tiger habitat," Fernandes said.
According to the report, India has witnessed an unprecedented increase in new coalmines and the establishment of coal-fired thermal power plants in the last five years. From 2007 to 2011, the coal mine lease area and coal production capacity have approximately doubled compared to pre-2007 levels.
"Virtually all new coal mining, and most of the planned power plants are located in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, parts of Odisha and Maharashtra. The same region is also India’s largest contiguous tiger landscape," the report said.
Based on geographic information system (GIS) analysis of overlaid maps of 13 coalfield areas (in Central India) with forest cover, protected area boundaries and latest government data on tiger, elephant and leopard presence, the report found destruction of over one million hectare (ha) of standing forest (including over 739,000 ha dense forest).
Over 354,000 ha in these coalfields lie within the 10km buffer of protected areas where any mining requires the permission of the National Board for Wildlife.
Besides, over 186,000ha in the 13 mines showed tiger presence, while leopard and elephant presence were shown in over 277,600ha and 55,900ha respectively.
"The 13 coalfields analysed will impact no fewer than eight tiger reserves (harbouring estimated 230 tigers) to varying degrees due to loss of connecting corridors as a result of coal mining," the report said.
Greenpeace warned that this analysis is the tip of the iceberg as there are approximately 40 coalfields in the Central India, many of them in forest areas.
"This study focuses on coal mining’s impact on mega fauna, but the loss of forests is also going to hit the communities dependent on them hard. The era of cheap coal is over – across India, from mine to power plant, communities are questioning coal as a source of electricity and asking for sustainable alternatives," said Fernandes.