Chhattisgarh approves auction of 17 coal blocks, triggers wildlife concerns
- Activists believe the approval was granted despite no increase in demand for coal.
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, asking not to be named.
Agriculture minister 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 pressure the government in Delhi,” he said.
A senior official in the environment ministry said: “We can intervene only when the project proponent comes to us for forest clearance or wildlife clearance. We can also comment or study the matter if we are asked to by a court if there is a legal case involved. On the overall issue of mining in the state, we cannot intervene.”
A response from the coal ministry wasn’t immediately available.
As per official data, Chhattisgarh produces around 150 million tonne of coal annually and has around 58,589 million tonne of reserves. The 17 blocks, which are expected to generate around 8,000 million tonne 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 comes under the region where the blocks are located. On its website, the enterprise said the coal blocks involve between 15% to 40% of forest land. Tributaries to the Atem, Mahan, Pajhar Nadi and Kelo rivers 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.