Forests always make for interesting stories. Jungle lore always fascinated me as a child.  Tigers, lions, bears, monkeys and elephants made better protagonists than humans then. The ultimate dream as a city bred child was to walk in a jungle alone and see a tiger in real. Not in a cage, but in real. Since I was supposed to be a brave girl, I would also pet the tiger.

Some of those ideas have become a bit more practical with age, but the premise is the dream of a child, minus the petting the tiger part of course.  Now that there are very few tigers or should I say forests left, I just hope my dream does not just remain a dream.

The No-Go areas have given some hope. These are areas rich in forest cover and biodiversity, which have been marked as a No-Go zone for coal mining by the environment ministry. Most of these areas are in the central and eastern part of the country, known for their lush forests which house tigers, elephants, leopards and other wild animals. If these areas are also opened up for mining then we can bid goodbye to forests and the creatures which inhabit them.

Mined forestView of the Rajapur Mining Project in Jharia from Bokahapadi village. Jharia is one of the most important coal mines in India and one of the largest in Asia. Jharia was a belt of dense forests inhabited by tribes before coal was unearthed in this area. If the No-Go classification is removed, a lot of the lush green and dense forests in the country will become barren, gaping coal mines like this one.

The coal ministry along with other ministries who benefit from either coal or its mining are unhappy with this restriction. They do not want anything to stop them from mining for coal in these No Go areas meant to protect our forests and wildlife. In the process they will destroy the forest, drive already endangered species closer to extinction and contaminate the numerous forest fed rivers of our country.

The ministry promises to carry out reforestation in the area they will destroy, but who are they trying to fool? These are ancient forests older than humans currently inhabiting this planet. So will the coal ministry re-create a forest, which took centuries to become one, in a lifetime?

Every step taken to dig out more coal to fulfill our electricity demands harms the environment and hastens climate change. There are plenty of sustainable options like solar and wind energy waiting to be explored and used. Not only will they give us clean, renewable and sustainable energy, they will also keep our forests and wildlife safe.

The Prime Minister will soon appoint ministers to form a Group of Ministers (GoM) to sort this forests versus coal tussle. But even before a formal decision on this has been made, Chhattisgarh has gone ahead and scrapped a proposed elephant sanctuary to accommodate a coal mining.

Hopefully this GoM will stick to keeping the No Go areas away from destructive coal mining. If they don’t, then we will lose one of the biggest and oldest chunks of forest forever. With smart concepts like No Go zones that will protect our diminishing resources, I can still hope to live my dream someday.