Around half of the 211 sq kms that the country’s biggest coal mining company, Coal India, claims have been planted with trees have actually been found to be barren, forcing the environment ministry to seek an explanation from it.
Mining companies are required to provide funds to plant trees on an area equal to or double that of the area of forests they cut down for their projects, known as compensatory afforestation.
During its presentation at the last meeting of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the environment ministry, Coal India said it has been converting several excavated coal mines into healthy green zones since 2008. But when the ministry examined the area through Google Earth, it found major differences in what was said in the presentation and what could be seen through Google’s satellites.
An official source said that no green cover was visible on at least 50% of the area on which Coal India claimed to have planted trees. “It was a barren coal mining area,” an official said, adding that the FAC has sought an explanation from Coal India for this discrepancy.
“We have asked for each company of Coal India and other mining companies to furnish complete details of reclamation done,” the official said.
The ministry has decided to seek a “real picture” of afforestation carried out in the country by mining companies.
A 2014 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that of the 1,03,390 hectares over which trees were to be planted since 2002, the environment ministry had a record of afforestation on only 7% of the land.
The Centre for Science and Environment, in its flagship State of Environment (SoE) Report in 2014, also asserted that compensatory afforestation was poor in many states, of which seven states - Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Punjab and Rajasthan – had seen no compensatory afforestation at all. Only Assam and Odisha had showed a high level of afforestation.