The biodiversity report by Wildlife Institute of India that came to light only a few days ago has concluded that the entire Hasdeo Aranya Coal Field (HACF) in Chhattisgarh should be declared a ‘no-go-area’.
Another Biodiversity study in the entire HACF carried out by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) highlights various red flags related to opening or granting extensions of coal blocks in HACF. Only to sideline them and advocate for approval of four coal blocks namely Tara, Parsa, Parsa East Kente Basan, and Kente Extension Coal block.
Despite all the WARNINGS issued by WII and observations in ICFRE’s report, the state government is keenly pushing for permissions for the coal blocks, two of which have Adani Enterprise as mine developer and operator.
In response to a question asked by NGT, WII stated, “As certain portions of the PEKB block has already been opened for mining, the mining operation may only be permitted in the already operational mine of the block. The other areas in HACF and landscape surrounding it should be declared as 'no-go areas' and no mining should be carried out considering the irreplaceable, rich biodiversity, and socio cultural values.”
It also said that the already active mining operations in HACF have resulted in aggravating the Human-Elephan-Conflict in the region. The report observed, “Chhattisgarh human-elephant conflict situation is a paradox with a relatively low number of elephants (<300, which is <1% of India’s wild elephant population) but high levels of HEC with over 60 human lives lost every year due to conflict (>15% of the reported human deaths due to HEC).
“Infrastructure development and mining are further fragmenting the habitats making conflict mitigation a huge challenge," the report further said.
The executive summary of the biodiversity report by ICFRE notes that the HACF (1879 sq.km) in Chhattisgarh is the third largest coal-bearing area (5529 MT), which is about nine percent of the coal of the state falling within the largest un-fragmented forests in central India consisting of pristine Sal and teak forests, outside the protected area network, and an important habitat for indigenous forest-dwelling tribal communities and large mammals.
A total of 640 plant species belonging to 400 genera, 109 families were recorded from the entire HAC. The summary report also highlighted that the HAC is very important in terms of its phytogeography and occurrence of 33 rare, endangered, and threatened (RET) plant species recorded both from core and buffer areas of coal blocks.
Despite all observations pointing towards the extent of loss and damage to the forests of Hasdeo Aranya state government is keen on pushing coal mining in the area.
In October 2021, hundreds of tribals from Hasdeo Aranya Area marched 300 km to the state capital demanding the cancellation of permission for coal mining in the area. CM Bhupesh Baghel ensured them that 'the state government and Congress will always stand with the tribals and safeguard their interests'. However, within a fortnight of the march stage II approval for the Parsa coal block was granted with recommendation from the government.
The coal block Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB) has been allocated to the RRVUNL and it is being run by Adani enterprises. The PEKB coal block was to be mined in two stages, of which the first stage began in 2013. It was supposed to be mined for at least 15 years, after which the second stage of mining would begin. However, in a meeting of Forest Advisory committee (FAC) in October the state seeked instant request for diversion of forest land for PEKB’s phase II mining. The phase II of PEKB is supposed to be in 1136 hectare of Hasdeo forests.
The permission was sought for phase II of PEKB due to enhanced production capacity, resulting in the mining activities of phase I to be over by 2021, seven years before the stipulated mining time for phase I.
“Both state and central governments are hand in gloves in coal mining. They are ignoring severe red flags and warnings to push for more coal blocks to be mined and all of this is being done under the corporate pressure.”Alok Shukla convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Aandolan