C’garh to hold public hearings on mining in coal block with 98% forest cover

The coal block abuts the Atem river, which merges into the Hasdeo river. Several seasonal streams also flow through the region that includes several protected forest blocks
Representational image. (HT Archive) PREMIUM
Representational image. (HT Archive)
Updated on Jun 17, 2021 02:58 PM IST
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ByJayashree Nandi, Ritesh Mishra

The Chhattisgarh government will hold public hearings in July in villages around the Kente Extension coal block as part of the process to grant environmental clearance to mining in the forested and biodiversity-rich Hasdeo Arand region, people aware of the matter said. The Centre granted terms of reference (TOR) to the project in January 2020 as one of the first steps for the clearance.

Public hearings offer an opportunity to the people to raise objections and make suggestions regarding large infrastructure projects in their areas. They are the third of the four stages in the environmental clearance processes. The other three are screening, scoping, and appraisal. Following the public hearings, the project will be appraised based on its environmental impacts. Later the decision of the Union environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee will be communicated to project developers.

Opening the block for mining has been contentious because of the large forest land involved. There has also been a state government proposal to convert a part of the area into an elephant reserve. Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectares. It has 22 coal blocks. In 2009, the ministry categorised Hasdeo Arand as a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover. But it was later opened again to mining as the policy was not finalised.

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The coal block abuts the Atem river, which merges into the Hasdeo river. Several seasonal streams also flow through the region that includes several protected forest blocks.

RP Tiwari, member secretary, Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board, said they were only following the directions of the Central government which has asked the state to initiate the process of the public hearing of the mining block. “We are following the TOR of the concerned ministry, and we are bound to do it.”

On the state mining department’s letter urging the Central government to exclude the Kente mining block for the proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve, Tiwari said he does not have anything in writing and will not comment.

Mohammad Akbar, the Chhattisgarh forest minister, echoed Tiwari. “The directions of public hearing of any coal block comes from central government and we have to follow the instructions.” He said the Environment Conservation Board will conduct the public hearings properly and legally.

Last year, Akbar urged Union environment and coal ministers Prakash Javadekar and Pralhad Joshi against auctioning coal blocks in the ecologically sensitive region. Following Akbar’s plea, five blocks from the Hasdeo region were not auctioned. The five are located between Hasdeo Arand and Mand rivers. But some coal blocks in the region were allocated earlier and include Kente Extension.

An environment ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said, “The public hearing is part of the environmental clearance process. Its impact on forests will be assessed by the Forest Advisory Committee of the ministry and a view will be taken accordingly.”

Alok Shukla, convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, said Kente Extension is an integral part of the Hasdeo Arand. “It has 98% dense forest cover. The state government should not have opened up this land. Till a few months back there were talks of declaring this area an elephant sanctuary.”

Manju Menon, a senior fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said there has been a contest between the Centre and state government over who gets to control the mining in Hasdeo Arand. “Either way, the profits from mining are mostly captured by one or two actors who will be contracted to do the mining on behalf of leaseholders,” Menon said. Menon added new coal mines should not be opened up during this time of serious economic crisis and complete breakdown of governance. “If it is allowed, these mines will have more negative development consequences than we have seen before. And it will only result in the wastage of precious public resources at great environmental and health costs to the people in Hasdeo. Kente is in the core area of Hasdeo forests. This project will be an environmental hate crime.”

The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited while coal mine developer-cum-operator operations have been awarded to Adani Enterprises through competitive bidding.

Adani Enterprises did not respond to HT’s queries sent on June 14.

The environmental impact is required to be assessed for a project and is based on the scope and details disclosed by the applicant.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    State Correspondent for Chhattisgarh. Reports Maoism, Politics, Mining and important developments from the state. Covered all sorts of extremism in Central India. Reported from Madhya Pradesh for eight years.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021