Coal ministry asks Odisha to opt for quicker impact study for mining project

Published on May 05, 2022 12:49 AM IST

Odisha’s chief wildlife warden Shashi Paul said in view of the Centre’s communication, the state will engage Bombay Natural History Society to assess the impact of coal mining in Angul district on the movement of elephants

The Naina opencast coal mines, spread over an area of 912.799 hectares, was allocated to Singareni Collieries Company Limited (HT File Photo)
The Naina opencast coal mines, spread over an area of 912.799 hectares, was allocated to Singareni Collieries Company Limited (HT File Photo)
ByDebabrata Mohanty

BHUBANESWAR: The Union coal ministry has asked Odisha government to get the state’s forest officials to look into the impact of coal mining in Angul district on the movement of elephants rather than involve the Forest Research Institute as proposed by the state government.

In an April 20 letter to Odisha chief secretary Suresh Mohapatra, the coal ministry’s additional secretary M Nagaraju said the Odisha government plan to engage the Dehradun-headquartered Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education for wildlife management and mitigation plans due to the mine’s proximity to an elephant reserve and an elephant corridor will take considerable time.

“...it would impact granting environmental and forest clearances to coal mines. This may adversely affect the coal production from the coal blocks in Talcher coalfields and other coalfields in Odisha. I shall be grateful if you kindly look into the matter and direct the forest department officers to furnish their comments to the ministry of environment, forests and climate change at the earliest instead of engaging ICFRE for any forestry research,” Nagaraju, who is the designated authority in the coal ministry for auction of coal mines, wrote in his letter.

The letter was sent in context of the Naini opencast coal mine in Chhendipada tehsil of Angul district of Odisha that is scheduled for mining by the state-owned firm, Singareni Collieries Company Limited of Telangana, after grant of all clearances from the union environment ministry. HT has reviewed the letter.

The Naina opencast coal mines, spread over an area of 912.799 hectares, was allocated to Singareni Collieries Company Limited and is crucial for its 2×600 megawatt thermal power plant in Pegadapalli under Mancherial district of Telangana. As it is the only coal producing company in southern India, SCCL has to supply coal to the power firms in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

While the Naini coal block, with an estimated coal reserves of 340 million tonnes of high grade coal, will be more than enough to meet the needs of the PSU, wildlife experts are concerned about its likely impact on rising human-elephant conflict in the Angul-Dhenkanal industrial belt.

In the last 8 years, 184 elephants have died in human-elephant conflict in the region, about 30% of the total elephant deaths in Odisha.

“The Angul-Dhenkanal region is not just among the most polluted in Odisha due to large number of coal mines and power plants, but it is the most critical place when it comes to human-elephant conflict. A few decades ago, Angul-Dhenkanal region was known to be haven for the elephants as a large part of the area was forested allowing them to travel long distances. But with diversion of forest lands due to coal mining and industrial activity, elephant corridors have been broken, triggering huge human-elephant conflict. Coal mining in the region will mean the end of the elephants,” said wildlife activist Dr Biswajit Mohanty.

The coal block allocated to the central PSU in August 2015 received its environmental clearance in October 2021 and stage-I forest clearance in July 2021. Of the 912.799 hectare proposed mining area, 783.275 is forest area of which 643.095 hectare is a reserve forest. Once the project gets its final forest clearance, at least 1.06 lakh sal, acacia, neem, mahul, bahada, bheru, sunari, teak, sirisa, gohira and ghurudu trees in Chhendipada reserve forest will have to be felled for the project.

While activists and evnironmentalists are alarmed over the cutting of huge number of trees for the coal project, officials in the state widllife department as well as the regional office of ministry of environment and forests over last 2 years had proposed more studies on wildlife management plans considering its proximity of the project to the Mahanadi Elephant Reserve (50 km away) and Kahneijena-Anatapur elephant corridor (29 km away).

The boundary of the project is approximately 30 km from the boundary of Satkosia Tiger reserve while the proposed Similipal-Satkosia tiger Corridor is about 8 km on the north side of the proposed project.

Following a report by the regional officer of the environment ministry that suggested detailed mitigation plan to avoid man-animal conflict and providing safe passage to elephants, the Forest Advisory Committee - it will grant the final forest clearance - sought comments of Odisha chief wildlife warden for a detailed wildlife management plan as the area witnessed exploratory movement of elephants.

Officials said the state government was planning to ask the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education for a detailed study when the coal ministry suggested that its forest official send their comments to the environment ministry instead of engaging ICFRE which would be time consuming.

Nagaraju’s letter said a longer study may adversely affect the coal production from the coal blocks in Talcher coalfields and other coalfields in Odisha. “Coal mining plays an important role in the growth of the industrial sector in Odisha and India. As Odisha accounts for India’s 24% of coal reserves, it is crucial component of the state’s economy,” he said.

Odisha’s chief wildlife warden Shashi Paul said instead of going for a longer-duration study to ascertain the impact of coal mining on the movement of elephants, the state has decided to engage Bombay Natural History Society for the same. “We already have some data from out own resources which we will pass on to BNHS so that the study report can come in next 6 months,” said Paul.

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