Dipka mine gets green clearance for another 30 years
The mine was submerged during the last monsoon when the Lilagar river, a tributary of Mahanadi, was in full spate in September.
The Union environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has given the go-ahead for a 30-year environmental clearance extension for state-owned Coal India Limited’s Dipka opencast coal mine in Chhattisgarh’s Korba even as residents of the area have called for its closure citing environmental concerns.
At an EAC meeting on January 24, the minutes of which have been published on the ministry’s website, the panel has recommended continuance of the clearance for 30 years or the life of the mine--whichever is earlier.
The mine was submerged during the last monsoon when the Lilagar river, a tributary of Mahanadi, was in full spate in September. Local environmental activists like Bipasha Paul of Raipur-based Jan Abhivyakti, who visited the spot soon after the flooding, found that fly ash washed away from the mine polluted the river.
A video of the flooding was shared widely on social media. Environmental expert, Shashank Shekhar, assistant professor, department of geology, Delhi University, had said having an opencast coal mine so close to a river was a recipe for such accidents and toxic pollution. Erik Solheim, a former executive director of the UN Environment Programme, had tweeted a video of the flooding saying “nature has its own plans.”
The environmental clearance for the Dipka mine, with a capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) and spread over a mining lease area of 1999. 23 ha, was to expire on March 20.
The project was granted clearance for expansion from 31 to 35 MTPA in a letter dated February 20, 2018. Its expansion was to be reviewed after a year. In a letter dated March 20, 2019, the expansion was allowed to continue for one more year subject to compliance of various provisions of the environmental clearance. HT has seen a copy of the letter.
The minutes of EAC’s meeting is silent on the impact of the mining operations on the Lilagar river.
Villagers living near the mine wrote to the ministry on January 21, saying despite evidence that the mining activities had breached the floodplains of Lilagar river and endangered it, the mine was granted permits to expand. The letter in Hindi, seen by HT, also states that the mine has caused air and water pollution in violation of the conditions of the environmental clearance granted to it and hence should be shut down.
EAC chairman Navin Chandra said he did not have details of the mine or the flooding and hence will be unable to comment on why the clearance for it has been recommended for 30 years.
Kanchi Kohli, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, called it yet another case wherein the EAC has used an “extremely perfunctory approach” to award a 30-year extension to a coal mine that has severely violated environmental safeguards as per the government’s own records.
“The minutes [of the EAC meeting] does not record any mention of the flooding of the Lilagar river less than six months back, which had severely impacted the villages and farmlands downstream. Such decisions are likely to discourage environmental compliance as illegalities have no bearing on project approvals,” said Kohli.
A Coal India Limited official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Dipka mine started functioning again only two days after the flooding. “Its output now is about 1.10 lakh tonnes per day. A non-seasonal local river had flooded on September 29 but we immediately conducted dewatering and the mine became functional gradually.”