Reserves exhausted early, Chhattisgarh coal mine seeks larger forest area
A coal block in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand region has nearly exhausted its reserves seven years before the approved timeline, and has applied for an amendment to the forest clearance granted to it by the Union environment ministry.
The forest clearance for phase 1 of Parsa East and Kete Basan (PEKB) coal block was granted in March 2012 for 15 years over a forest area of 762 hectares considering an annual capacity of 10 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). But in less than nine years, the mine has nearly exhausted its reserves according to documents uploaded on the environment ministry’s Parivesh website.
The production capacity of the mine was enhanced from 10 MTPA to 15 MTPA as per directions of the Ministry of Coal and as per a revised environmental clearance dated August 10 2018, states a letter from M/ s Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RVUNL), which owns the mine, to the environment ministry requesting an amendment to the forest clearance.
The letter dated September 9, 2020, seen by HT, says the mine is presently producing coal at the rate of 15 MTPA. “Considering the annual mine production of 15 MTPA from 2018-19 onwards, reserves within the phase 1 boundary would now exhaust by mid of 2021-22,” it said. The environment ministry, in a letter dated December 4, 2020, has sought the Chhattisgarh government’s opinion on whether an additional forest land of 269.845 hectares can be allotted to RRVUNL to mine during phase 1 of their project.
The move is facing widespread opposition by environmentalists because PEKB is located in Hasdeo Arand region, one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forests in central India spanning 170,000 hectares which has 22 coal blocks underneath. PEKB was a “no-go” area for mining as per a draft report of the environment ministry and the forest advisory committee forest diversion for the project in 2011.
However, the project was reconsidered after then environment minister Jairam Ramesh observed that the coal blocks are clearly in the “fringe” and actually not in the biodiversity rich Hasedo Arand forest region and are separated by a well-defined high hilly ridge.
A revised proposal was considered envisaging sequential mining in two phases, each phase lasting 15 years, the first covering 762 hectares and the second 1,136 hectares, with reclamation of the mined out area to commence from the third year onwards.
“There is a reason why mining activity is proposed in a phased manner. There are direct consequences of various mining operations, including excavation, blasting and the movement of mined ore. The environment clearance for the project is based on an impact assessment that justifies the phased nature of these impacts, many of which are still pending detailed scrutiny,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.
“Unfortunately, the environment ministry defied its own precautions while allowing the additional extraction capacity in 2018. This created a fait accompli situation allowing the company to be able to advance its timeline for phase 2 of mining activity, which will now require additional land and will impact existing forest rights,” she added.
The forest clearance granted to PEKB in March 2012 had specified that during phase 2, mining permission for the remaining 1,136 hectares will be linked to the reforestation and biodiversity management in phase 1. The project proponent will submit the application for permission for mining in phase 2 along with a compliance report of phase 1.
“We had written to the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee and the expert appraisal committees that increasing the production capacity of the mine would naturally lead to a change in forest clearance conditions. The mining plan was changed even without considering the forest clearance conditions making it a fait accompli situation. They have exhausted the mine in the period of only eight years and are now expanding to a larger forest area seven years before its scheduled time. This has become a mockery of the NGT judgement of 2014 which had ordered a detailed biodiversity, wildlife and carrying capacity study for the area which have not yet been done,” said Sudiep Shrivastava, an advocate who had petitioned NGT against environment ministry’s decision to grant forest clearance for the mine.
“If the mine is exhausted, for further expansion the project proponent has to approach us. I have to check what the state government’s opinion is on this matter,” said a senior official from the forest conservation division of MoEFCC.
The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) while coal mine developer-cum-operator (MDO) operations have been awarded to Adani Enterprises.
Adani Enterprises did not respond to HT’s queries on the matter.