Chhattisgarh govt red flags coal block auction in biodiversity-rich forests

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The Chhattisgarh government has asked the Centre not to allow auction of coal blocks which fall under Hasdeo Arand, Lemru elephant reserve and the Mand river catchment area which are biodiversity-rich forests.

Five of the nine coal blocks that will be up for auction for commercial mining fall under this area which includes Morga -2, Morga (South), Madanpur north, Shyang and Fathehpur (east).

In a letter to Union Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar on Saturday, Chhattisgarh Forest minister Mohammad Akbar said that many public and private sector industries are currently engaged in coal mining in Chhattisgarh.

“Coal block between Hasdev Arand and Mand river area also proposed for auction by the Union government …. Recently, there has been an increase in the numbers of wild elephants in the state which has led to a spike in human-elephant conflict. For providing habitat for wild elephants, 1,995 sq km of forest area around Hasdeo river has been declared as Lemru elephant reserve. The process of issuing notification for the same is under process,” Akbar said in the letter.

He reasoned that it is necessary to stop mining in that region to prevent loss of human lives and control on man-elephant conflict.

“It is my humble request to you, that in the upcoming coal block auction, the Hasdev Aranya and its adjacent Mand river coal blocks located in the catchment area and areas within the range of the proposed elephant reserve should not be included in the auction,” Akbar wrote.

A senior officer said that apart from five coal blocks which fall under this area, the government has no opposition in auctioning other four other mines.

“The other mines fall in areas which are not in Hasdeo Arand and catchment area , hence there is no issue in auctioning those,” said a senior forest official.

Hasdeo Arand spans 170,000 hectares of forests.

The other four coal blocks are -- Gare Palema (4/1), Gare Palema (4/7), Shankarpur Bhatgaon (second extension) and Sondhia.

The officer said Chhattisgarh has not yet decided to approach the Supreme Court on the issue.

“We have not decided to move the Supreme Court like Jharkhand till now,” said the officer.

On Saturday, the Jharkhand government moved the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren said the coal auction it is a huge policy decision and the respective state governments needed to be taken into confidence

The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, which is working for rights of tribals in Hasdeo Arand region accused the Centre of ignoring environmental concerns while deciding on the coal blocks to be auctioned.

“We welcome the letter written by the Chhattisgarh government. It is clear that in the auction process of coal block, the Modi government has not only ignored the environmental concerns but the opposition of gram sabhas was also not taken into consideration. This auction is also an attack on the federal structure because the centralization of the entire process has taken away the rights of the states,” said Alok Shukla, convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.

Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh government is considering increasing the area of Lemru elephant reserve area after activists demanded the inclusion of the total catchment area of Hasdeo river in the reserve.

Forest department sources said that the final decision has to be taken by the Chief Minister but total area of the reserve which is about 1995.48 square kilometers could be extended.

The government might include the total or a part of the catchment area of Hasdeo Basin, which is about 250 square kilometers with the elephant reserve. The major hurdle in front of the government is four operational mines, five allotted mines and 12 coal reserves which come under the catchment area of Hasdeo Basin.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched the auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining, saying the market for the commodity is now open and the sales will help turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity.

But several of the 41 mines are located in biodiversity-rich forest areas in central India.

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