The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union environment ministry has granted stage-1 preliminary forest clearance to the Parsa opencast coal mine, to be operated by a unit of billionaire Gautam Adani’s Adani Enterprises Limited, in the forested Surguja and Surajpur districts of Chhattisgarh.The mine falls in one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India called Hasdeo Arand that spans 170,000 ha (hectares). Of this, 841.538 ha of biodiversity-rich forest land, about the size of 800 football fields, has been cleared for mining.A spokesperson for Adani Enterprises declined to comment. The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), which has handed over the mining operations to Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises.In 2009, the environment ministry categorised Hasdeo Arand a so-called “no-go” area for mining because of its rich forest cover. The environment ministry undertook a study in nine major coalfields and the coal blocks located in these coalfields were classified as “go” and “no-go” areas, based on whether they had unfragmented forests. Hasdeo Arand has 30 coal blocks.Soon after, in 2011, coal blocks even in no-go areas were opened up because the go, no-go policy never got off the ground. There are two operational mines presently on the fringes of Hasdeo.Minutes of an FAC meeting held on January 15, 2019 state: “FAC has decided to recommend for grant of in-principle approval, with…a specific condition: the state government (Chhattisgarh) shall reconfirm the presence or absence of very dense forest in the northeastern part of the proposed forest land under diversion and scope of excluding the same from the proposal.”Siddhanta Das, director general of forests, confirmed that the project has been granted stage-1 approval, in which a proposal is agreed to in principle. “During our analysis, we found that a small part of the area may be very dense forest, so we have asked the state government to check. Chhattisgarh has been pursuing the project for a long time now. We don’t want any dense forest to be opened up so we have made this suggestion,” Das added.Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, claimed that the entire area that is proposed to be opened up to mining is pristine forest area. “Not only is it dense forest, Hasdeo Arand is an important elephant corridor and has a huge hydrological impact on the region. Tribals here are completely dependent on forest produce. The process of settling forest rights among the tribal population living here has not been completed. It seems like the government is in a hurry to clear the mine before the general election,” said Shukla.The minutes of the FAC’s meeting state that additional chief secretary (forest), Chhattisgarh was keen to conduct another site inspection with a larger committee and over a longer duration. The FAC, however, decided that “no additional information is expected to be obtained by one more site inspection”. The mine can be operational once the company has received environmental clearance and a final go-ahead from Chhattisgarh government.SS Meena, director of Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, said “We can start mining operations after receiving the stage-2 forest clearance. The mining contract has been given to Rajasthan Collieries Limited (RCL) and not Adani.”RCL, however, is listed as a subsidiary of Adani Green Energy Limited on the Bombay Stock Exchange.“Hasdeo is one of the few remaining unfragmented forests in India, which is currently pursued not just for Parsa but several other adjoining coal mines. This latest in-principle approval has been granted without the completion of several legal requirements,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).“There were several ecological studies and biodiversity assessment of the Hasdeo Arand region as required by the NGT (National Green Tribunal) judgment in 2014 that are still pending. The site inspection report for Parsa has recommended the forest diversion not by taking a view of the impacts of mining, but on the grounds that there is ‘no alternative to coal,’” Kohli added.