Skip to main content

MoEFCC 'gateway' to eco-loot: Post-facto clearance to illegal mining in Upper Assam

Counterview Desk
Expressing “deep concern" over recent reported post-facto clearance to the 16 years of “illegal” coal mining in Dehing Patkai in Upper Assam, the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), India’s civil society network, has said that the fresh approval for mining by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) to allow open cast mining by Coal India Limited in about 98.59 hectares of land in the Saleki Reserve Forest (Digboi) is an “environmental travesty.”
Demanding urgent settlement of forest rights and a complete ban on extractive mining in order to to protect the region, NAPM in a statement said, “Dehing Patkai, famously known as ‘Amazon of the East’ is the largest rainforest in India, home to many endangered species and is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of rainforest area in the Upper Assam region, extending up to the Deomali elephant reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.”

Text:

The National Alliance of People’s Movements expresses deep concern over the series of destructive and extractive projects being taken up in the bio-diverse rich regions of the North-Eastern states that jeopardize the interests of wildlife and humans alike.
‘Dehing Patkai’ in Upper Assam became a flash point of resistance last month after the recent “recommendation for approval” by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL), to allow open cast mining by Coal India Limited in about 98.59 hectares (ha) of land in the Saleki Reserve Forest (Digboi), which is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.
However, what has missed much of public discourse is the fact that the NBWL clearly over-looked existing scientific and official evidence of long-standing unlawful mining in the area and went ahead to ‘legalize’ the mining in a ‘post-facto mode’.
Dehing Patkai, famously known as ‘Amazon of the East’ is the largest rainforest in India, home to many endangered species and is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of rainforest area in the Upper Assam region, extending upto the Deomali elephant reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. The Government of Assam declared 111.19 sq km area of the rainforest as ‘Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary’ on 13th June, 2004, along with 17 other forest reserves.
According to the Forest Department of Assam, there are 46 species of mammals, 71 species of reptiles, 290 species of wild birds, 276 species of butterflies, 70 species of fish, 70 species of dragonflies,101 species of orchids and thousands of other insects found in the sanctuary.
Located on the southern bank of Brahmaputra, Dehing Patkai is also home to a large number of Asiatic elephants. Thousands of trees belonging to 61 rare species like Hollang, Mekai, Dhuna, Udiyam, Nahar, Samkothal, Bheer, Hollock, Elephant-apple, Fig etc. keep the rainforest pristine.
Information furnished under RTI confirms allegations by the local people and environmental activists that coal mining in the area has been going on for long, even in the absence of ‘formal clearances’ and renewals.
The 30-year lease permit issued in 1973 to North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a Coal India subsidiary, for conducting mining on an area of four-square miles in a part of the Dehing Patkai sanctuary, expired in 2003.
However, NEC continued with the illegal mining for almost a decade and approached the Government of Assam only in 2012 for fresh lease! Between 2003 and 2019, the NEC mined land measuring 57 ha without clearance, in the broken area. NEC also mined in portions of the unbroken area of 41.59 ha.
These details are confirmed by a Site Inspection Report of the Shillong Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), submitted to the Ministry on November 25, 2019. The Report states that NEC continued mining without obtaining a lease renewal and forest clearance over 73.2 ha (of the 98.59 ha for which conditional clearance has now been granted).
It is indeed extremely unfortunate and questionable that the Standing Committee of NBWL chaired by the Environment Minister himself granted ‘approval’ while blatantly ignoring the irregularities and unlawful mining which was pointed out by the Assam Forest Department, the Shillong Regional Office of MoEFCC and even the Expert Committee constituted in 2014, in the wake of concerns expressed by the Assam State WildLife Board (SWLB). 
Between 2003 and 2019, the NEC, a Coal India subsidiary, mined 57 ha without clearance in the broken area. NEC also mined in portions of the unbroken area of 41.59 ha
Despite the site inspection report of MoEFCC stating that illegal mining was carried out on the ‘unbroken’ land as well, NBWL failed to take note of this and instead categorised the entire 41 ha as ‘unbroken’! Going by media reports quoting the State Forest Minister, it is also interesting to note how the Report of the first Expert Committee constituted by SWLB in July 2015 was superseded by another Expert Committee constituted by NBWL, which submitted its Report in Oct 2019.
The present clearance of NBWL appears to be based on the Report of the subsequent expert committee constituted by the NBWL itself.
The NBWL’s conditional clearance issued in April mandates that NEC must furnish a ‘site-specific mine reclamation plan’ in consultation with Assam Forest Department for the already broken up forest area and a ‘feasibility report’ for exploring underground mining in the remaining area.
Experience from coal fields across India indicates that the ‘restoration to the original state’ is next to impossible. It is, therefore, quite likely that the ‘State-II’ clearance could be granted based on whatever plan is submitted by NEC.
We feel that such unlawful mining and post-facto ‘clearance’ of illegality is a blatant disregard of people’s rights, in particular of the indigenous communities and also furthers the extractive and destructive ‘development model’ that jeopardizes the ecosystem. MoEFCC which ought to be at the forefront of conservation is sadly becoming the gateway of ecological destruction and loot.
NAPM is of the view that while NEC ‘officially suspended’ all mining operations in the Tirap Colliery since 3rd June, 2020 following massive protests, it must be held fully accountable for the 16 years of unlawful mining.
In addition to the Rs 43.25 crore penalty imposed by the Assam Forest Department on the CIL, an FIR against officials of NEC, CIL and MoEFCC, holding authority, who permitted / oversaw/ignored the unlawful mining operations must be registered under appropriate provisions of law and stringent action taken.
Accountability must also be fixed for alleged unlawful mining in the Tikak Open Cast mine, situated in the Saleki Reserve Forest, where mining has been suspended since October, 2019 as per directives of the State Forest Department.
We are aware that multiple PILs are pending consideration before the Guwahati High Court, alleging gross violations of environmental laws and procedures including Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; the National Wildlife Actions Plan (2002-2016) and Centrally Sponsored Scheme, 2009 and seeking a ban on the coal mining.
We hope the Court which has admitted these PILs and also taken suo moto cognizance of the serious issue, calling for reply affidavits by mid-July will fix legal accountability of all state and central agencies, including project, clearing and monitoring authorities. The Court must also objectively consider the plea to direct competent authorities to declare the entire rainforest as a heritage site, in terms of Section 37 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
Activists in Assam also fear that unbridled mining in the Dehing Patkai forest region would severely affect the livelihoods and cultures of numerous ethnic groups like Tai Phake, Khamyang, Khampti, Singpho, Nocte, Ahom, Koibarta, Moran and Motok, tea-tribes, Burmese and Nepali speaking people.
Therefore, while the recent decision of the Assam Govt to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to a National Park is welcome, this would hold value only if all destructive coal mining in the area is stopped forthwith. Besides, the Govt. must settle all pending claims of people living in these forests as per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Forest Rights Act, 2006, before issuing any formal notification for the National Park.
The ‘upgradation’, should not mean a denial of the lawful land, forest and habitat rights of individuals and communities living in the forests since generations.
Considering the ecologically-sensitive nature of the Dehing-Patkai Forest Reserve we call upon the MoEFCC and the NBWL to immediately revoke the post-facto ‘conditional clearance’ granted for coal mining in the region. We also call upon MoEFCC to fix legal accountability of all authorities responsible for the unlawful mining between 2003-2020.
The Government of Assam must settle all forest rights and claims as per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 before upgrading Dehing Patkai to the status of National Park. We demand a complete halt to extractive mining in the region in violation of the environmental laws of the land. In doing so, the livelihood concerns and rights of the indigenous communities as well as coal workers with NEC must be duly considered and they must be consulted.
---
*Click here for signatories

Comments

TRENDING

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Teesta treaty? Modi sends ball to Mamata's court amidst Hasina's mango diplomacy

By Samina Akhter*  Most Bangladeshi and India media reports say that the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has received 600 kg of mangoes from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as part of her "mango-hilsa diplomacy." Hasina also delivered mangoes to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month, according to the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in India. In all, 1,200 kg of Amrapali mangoes were delivered to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister of India. According to a Bangladesh's deputy high commission official in Kolkata, a few more chief ministers in the eastern region will likely receive similar gifts. Last year, not only President Kovind and Prime Minister Modi, but also the chief ministers of West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam also received mangoes from Prime Minister Hasina. Hasina delivered mangoes from Rajshahi, including kinds like Golapkhas and Amrapali, as it is the peak season for the delectable fruit in

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Cops 'refuse to register' complaint after BSF shot landless worker off Bangla border

By Our Representative  Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convener, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), in a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), referring to the incident of “firing and execution” of a poor Muslim youth, has alleged that the 26 year old was was shot at “without giving any warning” one and half kilometers inside the Indian territory from Bangladesh border by an on- duty Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. Stating that the person, Ruhul Mondal, belonged to an Other Backward Class (OBC), and hailed from Ramnarayan Para village under Sagarpara police station in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, Roy in his representation said, the BSF person who shot at him is “attached with Singpara Border Outpost, 141 Battalion”, underlining, the BSF has now floated “self defense theory” to cover up its operation. According to the BSF officials, the incident took place in the jute fields in

Protesters demand release of Teesta Setalvad, Sreekumar, seek review of SC order

By Our Representative  Protests broke out across India on June 27 following Teesta Setalvad’s arrest demanding her immediate release. Sabrang India , a site run by Setalvad, claimed she was “arrested on trumped-up charges after the Supreme Court dismissed the petition moved by Zakia Jafri demanding an investigation into the larger conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat violence.” The protesters also demanded release of former DGP Gujarat police RB Sreekumar, also arrested simultaneously. The protests were preceded by over 2,200 people from across the globe signing a statement demanding their immediate release. Leading signatories such as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) general secretary V Suresh, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) convenor Medha Patkar, former Naval chief Admiral Ramdas. “The state has used the observations made in the judgment to falsely and vindictively prosecute those who had struggled for justice even in the face of state callousness and complicit

Electoral bonds scheme 'compromises' voluntary nature PM relief fund donations

By Rosamma Thomas*  The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is meant to collect voluntary donations from the general public, either individuals or organizations, to enable assistance to people in times of natural disaster, or for expensive medical treatment. That fundamental voluntary character of the fund, however, has changed in recent years.  The gazette notification of January 2018 announcing the Electoral Bond scheme states, in Clause 12 (2): “The amount of bonds not encashed within the validity period of fifteen days shall be deposited by the authorized bank to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund”. The Union government has, thus, through notification, directed funds to be deposited into what was meant to be purely voluntary. Commodore Lokesh Batra, who has been campaigning for transparency in government functioning, holds that once a gazette notification has been issued directing that funds be deposited into the PMNRF, the character of the whole fund has changed,

Bulldozing houses in UP: India isn't Israel, Muslims living here 'aren't Palestinians'

By Naveen Tewari, Sandeep Pandey*  A recent full front page of the advertisement by a Bhartiya Janata Party government declares, 'House is not just a word. It is a place where power to dream comes and aspirations are fulfilled. Home is much about dignity and security than it is about shelter.' It further goes on to quote Narendra Modi, 'It is my dream that every Indian has a pucca house by 2022.' The occasion was dedication of houses built by a private builder Balaji to the poor. Having witnessed over the past few days the now iconic picture of a bulldozer running down the Prayagraj house of parents of female Muslim student and activist Afreen Fatima, who participated in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens protests, one is almost tempted to look for a fine print at the bottom of the page to the effect that the promise of house is subject to the condition that one doesn't participate in any anti-government protest otherwis

'Highly abnormal': AltNews journo's arrest suggests 'deterioration in media freedom'

By Bharat Dogra*  Leading media organizations have come out in strong support of recently arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair. These organizations include, among others, the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Delhi Union of Journalists and DIGIPUB, a platform for several important digital media organizations. All these organizations have condemned the recent arrest of the noted journalist and demanded his immediate release. While leading human rights organizations and political parties have also made somewhat similar statements, the strong support of media organizations is particularly important as the effort of the authorities has been to try to present the arrested journalist as someone who has been indulging in irresponsible journalism.  In such a situation the support of those media organizations who are familiar with his work and who are most capable of judging the quality of his work is very important. In this context it is important that some media organization

Majoritarian silence helping Hindutva forces 'handover' national resources to corporates

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The majority of Indian citizens are witnessing the persecution and everyday violence against their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities. The growing assaults on reason, science, secularism, Indian democracy and constitution are going to be landmarks in Indian history of diminishing democracy and citizenship rights. It is clear that Hindutva ideology is directly promoting sectarian politics of hate which is dangerous for the unity and integrity of India, peace and prosperity of Indians. The majoritarian silence helps in empowering Hindutva and their electoral dividends. From witnessing the persecution in the sidelines to the active participation and cheering loud or silence accelerates violence against our neighbours and our fellow citizens. How and why do majority of Indians stay silent and contribute to the persecution of their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities? The question baffles me as an Indian because I have gr