Coal mine auction opens up vast stretches of forests in central India for mining, show documents
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched the auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining, saying the market for the commodity is now open and the sales will help turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity.
But the list of 41 mines showed several are located in biodiversity-rich forest areas in central India, including a few in one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest called Hasdeo Arand that spans 170,000 hectares.
Brief descriptions of the mines up for auction on the website of state-run MSTC Limited showed several do not have the required forest clearance and are located amid protected forests.
Madanpur North in Chhattisgarh, for example, has a total area of 21 sq km, of which 19 sq km is forest area. The area is the drainage for several streams that join Hasdeo river. The mine is awaiting forest and environmental clearance.
Morga II, also in Hasdeo Arand coal block, has an area of 26.64 sq km, of which 85% is forest land. The area falls within the drainage of Hasdeo river, a major tributary of Mahanadi river. Almost the entire Morga South coal block is also in forest land, according to the site’s description on MSTC’s website.
There are several coal blocks in biodiversity-rich forest land in Jharkhand. For example, Chakla block has 55% forest cover and acts as drainage for major rivers such as Damodar and Bakri. Jharkhand’s Choritand Tilaya too has forests in 50% of the area, while Seregarha block comprises 40% forest.
Madhya Pradesh’s Gotitoria East coal block is 80% forest and acts as drainage for Sitarewa river. There are several other blocks among the 41 where operations will involve massive forest loss, the documents show.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren had written to the prime minister on June 10 to request him to place a moratorium on mineral auction processes to ensuring competitive auctions.
“Coal and iron ore are the two most significant minerals that would come up for auction. However, both these minerals are found in districts that have significant forest cover and host a large population of scheduled tribe and backward community,” he wrote.
Gram sabhas in Hasdeo Arand in Surguja region of Chhattisgarh also wrote to the prime minister on Tuesday, asking him to stop the auction of five coal blocks in the region.
“Total 20 gram sabhas of the region have been regularly passing resolutions against mining and auction/allotment of coal blocks in the region since the last five years. Even when the first phase of auctions was happening in 2015, these gram sabhas had written to the PM,” the letter stated.
“Nature has blessed eastern and central India with rich coal deposits. I want to assure people of these regions that labour welfare and development of coal bearing regions are foremost on our mind,” union coal minister Pralhad Joshi said on Thursday. Coal sector is committed to a massive capital expenditure and employment plan in coal bearing regions, Joshi added.
To achieve complete Aatma Nirbhar Bharat in coal sector, we need to make large infrastructure investment in eastern and central India, he said.
“I have already declared that welfare provisions for contractual labourers in event of mishap will be no less than that for regular employees....Coal sector is committed to a massive capital expenditure and employment plan in coal bearing regions,” he said.
Coa l India will rise to energy challenge and increasingly get into clean coal technology, the minister said. “ CIL will invest thousands of crores of rupees on mechanizing coal movement to mine coal technologically and more efficiently, reducing pollution and improving efficiency.”
Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, said: “This centralised coal mine auctions open the fragile and biodiverse forest areas in constitutionally protected Scheduled V areas. The messaging of the auction process signals that the government sees these places as mere coal bearing areas from where projects interested in commercial coal mining will extract for private profit.
“With no end use and pricing restrictions, the government is also giving up its important responsibility of safeguarding public interest, protecting the environment and upholding the prevailing constitutional safeguards for the areas in question.”