Protected forest areas, larger than 70% of Jim Corbett Park, diverted for mining
Around 38,846.7 ha of protected forest land has been diverted for mining projects between 2011 and 2021, according to the union environment ministry. That area is over 70% of Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.
The highest diversion of protected forest took place in Odisha with 14,158.34 ha of forests handed over for mining, according to the reply of the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change (MoEFCC) to a question in Lok Sabha on Friday. Odisha is followed by Chhattisgarh where 7,086.85 ha was diverted; 6,135.48 ha was diverted in Madhya Pradesh and 3,699.90 ha diverted in Telangana.
“As per the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated August 4, 2006 in the Writ Petition (C) no. 202/1995 (TN Godavarman Thirumalpad vs Union Of India & Ors) the permission for mining cannot be granted inside any National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. However, the mining activities can be permitted in Protected Forest (PF) areas by the concerned state government subject to prior approval of Central Government under the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980,” ministry said in its reply.
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In reply to another question on illegal mining in forest areas, the ministry has shared data on such instances in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. There have been 2,045 instances of illegal mining in protected forests of Rajasthan in 2020-21 which increased from 1,341 in 2016-17. In Maharashtra, there were 150 instances of illegal mining compared to 69 in 2017; in Jharkhand there were 546 instances of illegal mining.
“Protection and management of forests is primarily the responsibility of concerned state/UT. Various actions to check illegal mining are taken as per the provisions under various Acts, such as Indian Forest Act, 1927; Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; and various rules made under these Acts and other State specific Acts and Rules. Further, to prevent and stop forest offences including illegal mining, various measures are taken by the state forest departments such as setting up of check posts, barriers, use of modern technology (that includes wireless networks, remote sensing, Geographical Information System, Information Technology, Global Positioning System and Differential Global Positioning System), improved mobility of field staff by providing vehicles for patrolling, survey and demarcation of forest areas and construction of boundary pillars,” MoEFCC said in its reply on Friday.
Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher with Centre for Policy Research said these diversions were not just about the number of hectares. "It is about the diversion of livelihood and habitation rights and obstruction for the movement of wildlife that creates new local and interstate conflicts. It is crucial that legal processes move away from treating forests and forest rights as mobile, tradable commodities that can be compensated for in cash or kind. Decisions related to forest diversion cannot be given effect without addressing questions of social legitimacy, ecological consequences and climate vulnerability," said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.