Coal minister shows willingness to discuss safety of forests

Anticipating high security and only a few minutes outside Shastri Bhawan, Greenpeace India activists successfully blocked the main gate of the Ministry of Coal office by placing 18 life size tigers chained to the gates. Three tiger mascots, 2 holding a banner saying, “Our forests are a ‘No Go’ for coal mining,” were also part of the protest. The third one waited with them to meet the coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal.

Greenpeace India was protesting against the forest and wildlife destruction caused by rampant coal mining in India. More than 26,000 hectares of forest land has been diverted for coal mining alone since 2007, making it one of the biggest threats to forests in India. The coal ministry is now demanding for more than 15 lakh acres of forest land in Central India.

Coal India Limited has access to over 200,000 hectares of coal bearing land, including 55,000 hectares of forest area. Yet the Ministry of Coal claims that it needs additional forest land to increase coal production to meet the shortfall in energy generation.

The coal ministry is also blaming the Ministry of Environment and Forests for delays in forest clearances that are leading to coal shortage and hence shortage in electricity for people.

On the contrary, environmental clearances are the least of the hindrances. Issues like efficient mining in the existing mines, audit of existing reserves etc are only some of the issues that the coal ministry has failed to address.

In the last few months, Greenpeace undertook seperate external fact finding missions and documented the destruction and havoc caused by coal mines in forests around Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh and Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. The reports – ‘Singrauli: the coal curse’ and ‘Undermining Tadoba’s Tigers’ – clearly show that coal mining and related industrial activity has completely destroyed the lives and livelihood of people in Singrauli and is causing fragmentation of tiger habitat around the tiger reserve in Chandrapur, Maharashtra.

With these tools and data in hand, Greenpeace activists demanded to meet the coal minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal. After an hour of protest, the minister agreed to meet the activists and the tiger mascot. In a short meeting, the activists talked about the concerns over coal mining and its destruction and handed over the reports to him.

Greenpeace had also collected petitions from over a lakh supporters which was presented to the minister. The minister said that he was concerned about wildlife, especially tigers, and forests and asked Greenpeace to meet him next week for a detailed meeting.

Forests in Central India are not only habitat to critical wildlife like tigers but also a source of livelihood to numerous communities living in it. Moreover these crucial greens also hold the key to natural resources for the cities. They are lungs of the cities, water resources and carbon sinks for the carbon intensive lifestyle we live.

So it’s time we stand up and tell the government that these forests are critical to our lives and we will not allow excessive mining to destroy our resources. We want the government to know that ‘We are watching’.

Story: Shachi Chaturvedi

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