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Environment ministry re-examining proposal allowing mining in Saranda

The area in question is home to a 200-ha of dense sal (Shorea robusta) forest and is located in the core area of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve of Saranda.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2019 07:42 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
jharkhand,saranda,ArcelorMittal India Private Limited
Villager’s crossing dense Saranda Forest to reach their village Digha. (HT file photo)

The environment ministry is taking a fresh look at a proposal to allow mining of iron ore and manganese in 200 hectares of forest land in Jharkhand’s Saranda, two years after the same was rejected on the grounds that the region “bears rich forests which are home to many wild animals including elephants”.

Although the forest advisory committee (FAC) of the ministry heard the matter on May 22, its decision is yet to be made public, officials said.

In 2017, the FAC had declined to clear the project proposal by ArcelorMittal India Private Limited saying, “...Any decision to allow mining leases or to open up new areas in Saranda forest for mining needs to be taken after careful thought.” It had also said, no decision should be taken until a sustainable mining plan was prepared for Saranda.

The area in question is home to a 200-ha of dense sal (Shorea robusta) forest and is located in the core area of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve of Saranda.

The environment ministry had published a sustainable mining plan for Saranda and Chaibasa in 2018 categorising the area to be leased as zone 1 and zone 2.

“I don’t think the mine falls in the core elephant reserve. It falls under one of the areas in Saranda forests which have been opened up for mining,” said Siddhanta Das, director general of forests.

But the project documents available on the “Parivesh” website, which bears information on environmental, forest and wildlife clearances of infrastructure projects, show the land falls in the core area of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and the project has not been recommended for lease by the nodal officer of the Jharkhand forest department.

A letter by the principal chief conservator of forests, Jharkhand, dated December 15, 2016 states: “The proposed area consists of virgin and dense sal forests. The terrain is largely hilly with moderate to steep slopes and prone to erosion. The proposed areas are very rich in flora and fauna. The forest type is moist peninsular sal forests and largely classified as Eco Class 1 [refers to forests consisting of tropical wet evergreen forests, tropical semi evergreen forests and tropical moist deciduous forests].”

A form filled by the deputy conservator of forests states that the legal status of the area is “reserve forest notified as core area of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve” that is in continuity with the forests of adjoining states — Odisha and West Bengal.

The forest patch in question is also home to giant squirrels, sloth beer, barking deer and a variety of reptile species.

“Apart from the wildlife being impacted, tributaries of Karo and Koyna rivers pass through the area. There are 6-8 mines in Saranda already, it needs to be decided as to how opening up the rest of forests would impact the region,” said a senior forest department official from Jharkhand, who asked not to be named.

Independent researcher RK Singh, who has worked on projects on Saranda, said:  “Why did the environment ministry merge mining zone 1 and zone 2? In their first plan, mining in zone 2 could be done only after zone 1 was exhausted, but this project encompasses both. Many stretches of Koyna are already becoming dry in summer due to the heavy silt load, and even existing mining will lead to the death of lifeline of Saranda.”

ArcelorMittal India Private Limited did not respond to HT’s calls or emails.

First Published: Jun 09, 2019 07:42 IST