NBWL allows coal mine in part of Assam’s elephant reserve
New Delhi: The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has recommended that part of 98.59 ha (hectares) reserve forest land that is a part of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve be used for opencast coal mining by North-Eastern Coal Field of Coal India Limited according to minutes of the 57th Meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife held on April 17 through video-conferencing. The rest of the area may be considered for underground coal mining, the body said.
The proposal of locating the coal mine inside the reserve was considered during the 54th meeting of the board on July 18 last year when it was decided that a committee comprising noted elephant expert and member of NBWL, Professor R Sukumar, a representative of the wildlife division and the state chief wildlife warden of Assam would visit the site and submit a report to the ministry. The environment ministry was to also arrange a meeting with officials of Coal India Limited.
R Sukumar submitted to NBWL that 57.02 ha of forest land has already been used for mining by Coal India Limited and that in the balance 41.39 ha of unbroken area a cautious approach needs to be adopted owing to the rich biodiversity according to the minutes. The NBWL meeting was chaired by environment minister, Prakash Javadekar.
The so called unbroken area is on a steep hill slope that is part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant reserve adjoining forests in Arunachal Pradesh which includes Deomali Elephant Reserve with a sizeable population of elephants. The say the proposal for already “broken up area is recommended for approval” subject to submission of a rectified site specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Assam Forest Department and that for the unbroken area, the matter will be considered after Coal India Limited submits a feasibility report for underground mining.
“Coal India had broken up 57.2 ha years ago and mined it without any permission, in violation of laws. They have been directed to (pay) penalty for this and submit a mine reclamation plan. The plan they have submitted includes trees from central India which is not even the native biodiversity of Assam. So they have been asked to come back again with a proper plan,” said Sukumar, ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). “The rest of the area bordering Arunachal Pradesh, it cannot be broken up. The standing committee has told them (CIL) that forests there cannot be opened up,” he added over phone from Bangalore.
A CIL spokesperson said he was not aware of the NBWL decision and needs time to get details on it.
“Elephant herds have strong fidelity to their range. They move around the same area for many years. Obviously such projects will affect their movement and demographics. I am not very aware of the landscape in this reserve but conflict is bound to increase if there are human dominated areas in the neighbourhood,” said M Ananda Kumar, elephant biologist.