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

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

US 'frustrated' with India’s discomfort: Maritime exercise in South China Sea

By Vijay Prashad*  In early April 2024, the navies of four countries -- Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States -- held a maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Australia’s Warramunga, Japan’s Akebono, the Philippines’ Antonio Luna, and the United States’ Mobile worked together in these waters to strengthen their joint abilities and -- as they said in a joint statement  -- to “uphold the right to freedom of navigation and overflight and respect for maritime rights under international law.” 

Dadi, poti discuss 'injustice' under 10 yr Modi rule: Video campaign goes viral

By Our Representative  Watan Ki Raah Mein, a civil society campaign of the Samvidhan Bachao Nagrik Abhiyan, has released a short video conversation on social media of an exchange of letters between a dadi and her poti discussing poverty, unemployment, corruption and women’s safety. The letters also raise the question of  suppression of our fundamental rights of speech, expression and justice. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9.