New Delhi 4th July 2013. In a bid to wash off the soot left by the coalgate scam, the Ministry of Coal has auctioned 14 coal blocks to public sector units in the biggest allocations of coal blocks since the scam. However this process is marred by controversies and flaws as a Greenpeace India study shows that out of these as many as eight coal blocks fall under dense forest areas with presence of tribal villages, endangered species, rivers and other water bodies.
According to the report, these 14 coal blocks allocated to various PSUs will destroy 4,200 hectares of forest, including 2,200 hectares of dense forest. Besides affecting 17 villages, this will have an adverse impact on elephants, tigers and leopards in nine blocks. These auctions also come at a time when the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is still in the process of making the criteria for the "inviolate" forests areas to demarcate certain forests areas to be kept out of bound from coal mining. Condemning these allocations Nandikesh Sivalingam, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace India said, "These allocations are being made before any informed decision is taken on whether it is acceptable for a coal mine to come up at the cost of environment and livelihood of villagers dependent on the forests.
Setting up a fait accompli
The Coal Ministry seems to be jumping the gun to make central and state PSUs sink in more public money on mining projects, before any informed decision is taken on whether it is acceptable for a mine to come up in a forest area considering all environmental and livelihood concerns. This, in turn could potentially lead to rejections, delays and in some cases even legal challenges for the projects. For instance, the Mahan Coal Block hangs fire since MoEF has held that a forest clearance does not make sense given the forest density and impact on hydrology and pending forest rights demands of the villagers.
According to a Greenpeace analysis based on data acquired from the MoEF, coal available within forest areas is only 18,448.36 million tonnes, while more than double (955,218.83 million tonnes) can be mined outside these areas. "Yet, we see a mindless rush for coal block allocations in areas with thick forests, rather than in other areas that are free of dense forests and wildlife," said Sivalingam.
Parliamentary Standing Committee report on coal blocks allocation revealed that out of the 195 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2008, production had begun in only 30 blocks. It said that while a majority of these blocks (160) were allotted by the UPA government between 2004 and 2008, so far production has begun only in two. Greenpeace India would also like to question the government on the need to auction new mines when they failed to develop the ones which are already allotted.