Rajasthan gets approval for second coal mine in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand
The Chhattisgarh government allocated the PEKB coal block to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) for second phase mining after the first phase completed in March 2022.
RAIPUR: The Chhattisgarh government granted approval to mining of Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal block to the Rajasthan government on March 25, the day Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot met his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel in Raipur.
Although the Chhattisgarh government claimed on March 26 that the approval was still under consideration, documents with Hindustan Times showed that the approval with nine conditions was granted on March 25 itself.
The state’s Forest and Climate Change Department has included biodiversity restoration as an important condition in the approval letter accessed by HT. The other main conditions include those recommendations in biodiversity assessment report should be part of the wildlife management plan and mining company should submit an annual progress report on biodiversity rehabilitation to the state government.
The PEKB coal block has been allocated to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) for second phase mining, after the first phase of mining in 762 hectares of land allotted to RVUNL in 2007 completed in March 2022.
The Rajasthan government has been allowed to divert 1136.328 hectares of land for the second phase, which the Chhattisgarh-based activists claimed would mean cutting of around 2, 42,670 trees in the jungles of Parsa and Kente villages of Udaipur tehsil of Surguja district.
In the same tehsil, the Rajasthan government has earlier got approval for cutting of close to two lakh trees to operate second phase of Parsa coal block. Both the mining areas are in Hasdeo Arand forest, considered one of the densest and finest forests in India. Cutting of trees for mining of Parsa coal block started on Monday.
In 2021, a biodiversity impact study conducted by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in consultation with Wildlife Institute of India, in Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, had recommended that 14 of the 23 coalfields should not be allowed for mining to preserve the forest habitat and wildlife there, including elephants. Parsa clock block was not among these 14 coal fields.
“As per the agenda note submitted by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to Forest Advisory Committee, in 2014, regarding clearances of PEKB coal block, total 2,42,670 trees will be affected in the second phase of PEKB coal block mining. There is dense jungle in the area and animals like bear, wild boar, fox, jackal, wolf, and elephants are found. The main species are trees including sal, dhawa, saja, aaonla, achar, bhilwan, mahua, harra & Jamun. This census of trees was done in 2009, I believe that at present there are more than 3 lakh trees,” said Sudeip Shrivasatva , who challenged the clearances of state government for PEKB in National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014.
A senior forest officer, on the condition of anonymity, said cutting of trees (deforestation) for the PEKB second phase coal mining will start soon. “The marking and segregation of trees will start soon and subsequently the deforestation will start. It can take a couple of months,” the officer added.
On March 26, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot met his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel for the pending clearances of two coal blocks – Parsa Coal Block and second phase of PEKB. After the meeting Gehlot claimed the clearances were granted by the state government.
The state public relations department, in a statement said officials are examining the action plan and a final decision over starting mining work will be taken following a thorough consideration.
In December 2021, the union government granted environment clearance to Rajasthan for mining coal from PEKB but necessary clearances from the Chhattisgarh government were awaited, despite repeated reminders and correspondence.
The Chhattisgarh permission was stuck due to protest by locals including tribals that their scared land was being given for mining to Rajasthan. Shrivastva said the second phase of PEKB mine can be opened in 2027 and the approval is “mockery” of recommendations of expert bodies like Wildlife Institute of India (WII) which had suggested against second phase.
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectare and has 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the environment ministry categorised Hasdeo Arand to be a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover but opened it again to mining because the policy was not finalised.