According to MSTC Limited, which is carrying out the auctions for the Centre, a large forest area will be impacted in Chhattisgarh. (HT Archive)
According to MSTC Limited, which is carrying out the auctions for the Centre, a large forest area will be impacted in Chhattisgarh. (HT Archive)

Chhattisgarh approves auction of 17 coal blocks, triggers wildlife concerns

The 17 blocks, which are expected to generate around 8,000 million tonnes of coal, are located in Dharamjaigarh, Sarguja, Surajpur and Koriya forest divisions
By Ritesh Mishra & Jayashree Nandi
UPDATED ON JUL 22, 2021 12:14 AM IST

Raipur/New Delhi: The Chhattisgarh Cabinet has approved auctioning of 17 out of 18 coal blocks identified by the Centre in the state, triggering concerns on the impact of mining activities in wildlife-rich areas that are home to several elephants, sloth bears and leopards.

Activists believe the approval was granted despite no increase in demand for coal.

An official familiar with the matter said the nod for the auction was given at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “...Barra coal block, which is in Raigarh district, has been exempted from the auction,” the official said, wishing not to be named.

Agricultureminister and government spokesperson Ravindra Chaubey said Barra was exempted from the auction in view of the presence of a major human settlement in the area.

Chaubey added that the decision to remove Barra coal block from the list was taken at the request of public representatives and ministers.

“The activists have the right to express their views but, in this case, the Centre had asked for approval of the state government. The decision and jurisdiction are of the Union government and I believe the activists should pressurise the government in Delhi,” he said.

As per official data, Chhattisgarh produces around 150 million tonnes of coal annually and has around 58,589 million tonnes of reserves. The 17 blocks, which are expected to generate around 8,000 million tonnes of coal, are located in Dharamjaigarh, Sarguja, Surajpur and Koriya forest divisions.

According to MSTC Limited, the enterprise which is carrying out the auctions for the Centre, a large forest area is likely to be impacted in Chhattisgarh. In its website, the enterprise said the coal blocks involve between 15% to 40% of forest land. A tributary to the Atem, Mahan, Pajhar Nadi and Kelo rivers also flow through the area.

Sudiep Shrivastava, an environmental lawyer, expressed concerns over the impact on the wildlife of the area. “...in some areas, even tigers are also found,” he said, adding that below 50% of the area around the blocks is forested but the landscape is crucial for wildlife.

Alok Shukla, convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an NGO, said the state government should have opposed commercial mining as Chhattisgarh is already facing consequences in the form of environmental destruction and displacements. He added that the state government will not get any special revenue because of low rates.

“The auction is not for the country’s coal requirements but for corporate profits as 44 of the 70 previously allocated coal blocks (between 2015-20) are yet to start operations. New power plants are also not being established and the demand for coal is also not increasing. That is why this auction is also an exercise to eliminate Coal India (government-owned coal mining and refining corporation),” he said.

In 2020, Shrivastava said, 38 coal blocks were selected for auction but 17 of them did not receive a single bid.

“The blocks which were auctioned fetched 9% to 66% of the rates which translate into roughly 130 per tonne to 900 per tonne...This is much lower than the rates fetched in the 2015 auction when blocks were sold for over 3,000 per tonne.”

He cited Coal India’s vision document and added that no more auction or allotment is needed as there are enough mines.

Shrivastava said fresh auctioning would not fetch enough revenue and the state would lose its precious mineral wealth at throwaway prices. “If we allow more and more mines to be auctioned and opened up... the coal is not likely to be in much demand and would result in loss of revenue to the state. The farmers would have already lost land by then.”

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