Centre permits mining in Hasdeo Arand area in Chhattisgarh
Despite protests by local residents, the environment ministry has permitted further coal mining in 1,136 hectares of land in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand, one of the last remaining old growth forests in the country.
The forest advisory committee of the ministry on December 23 approved a proposal to extend mining in the Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) block owned by the Rajasthan’s power distribution utility, as coal reserves in the first allotment of 762 hectares was exhausted earlier than estimated.
Hasdeo Arand, sitting on rich coal reserves, is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forests in central India. It spans 170,000 hectares and has 22 coal blocks underneath it. In October last year, HT had reported that protests by local residents broke out in the region after the ministry granted clearance for stage-II mining in the Parsa coal block in the region.
On March 15, 2012, the ministry had granted clearance for mining in around 1,898 hectares of the region in two phases. Mining in phase-I was restricted to 768 hectares over a span of 15 years, considering an annual capacity of 10 million tonnes per annum, according to the clearance. This means that the stage-I mining was to be carried out till 2027.
But the project proponent, Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, had on September 9, 2020 applied for an amendment to the 2012 forest clearance, seeking the ministry’s nod for stage-II mining in 2022.
The advisory committee referred to a biodiversity report by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education that recommended that four contiguous coal blocks in the Gej-Jhink watershed – Tara, Parsa, PEKB and Kente Extension – that are either already open or in advance stage of getting statutory clearances, can be considered for mining with strict environmental safeguards, including appropriate conservation measures for management of surface water and biodiversity.
The approvals for coal mining in PEKB in Hasdeo Arand has been widely opposed by environmentalists. PEKB was a “no-go” area for mining as per a 2011 draft report of the environment ministry. The entire issue of ‘Go - No Go’ is before a Group of Ministers (GoM), constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat on February 3, 2011, to consider the environmental and developmental issues relating to coal mining and other developmental projects.
However, the project was reconsidered after then environment minister Jairam Ramesh observed that the coal blocks were in the “fringe” and not within the biodiversity rich Hasedo Arand forest and were separated by a well-defined hilly ridge.
An expert team from the ministry also visited the site on November 26 to 29 and said that under corporate social responsibility, a number of initiatives in the form of self-employment generation, agriculture, dairy, vermicomposting, women’s empowerment, etc., for uplifting socioeconomic conditions of the people around PEKB block were undertaken.
“We have stated all the reasons why approval has been given for phase II mining in a larger forest area,” a member of the advisory committee said on condition of anonymity. “The risks have been considered and studied.”
“This decision reflects that the Congress-led state government and the Bharatiya Janata Party led central government are concurring on pushing for mining operations despite several socio-ecological, legal and constitutional irregularities,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.
The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) while coal mine developer-cum-operator (MDO) operations have been awarded to Adani Enterprises.
Adani Enterprises did not respond to HT’s queries on the matter.