Environmentalists raise concerns over coal mining in ‘no go’ zones, call the move a recipe for ecological disaster

6 months ago 40
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NEW DELHI: A day after

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

launched auction process of 41

coal blocks

for commercial mining, chairman of a parliamentary committee

Jairam Ramesh

on Friday wrote to environment minister

Prakash Javadekar

, urging him “to take steps to ensure that the coal blocks in ecologically fragile and sensitive areas put for auction are cancelled immediately”.
Flagging that the coal mining in “very dense forest areas” would be “triple disaster” (heavy environmental cost, loss of carbon sink and public health crisis) from ecological point of view, Ramesh, who currently heads the parliamentary standing committee on environment and forests, referred to “go” and “no go” classification of coal blocks, made jointly by environment and coal ministries in 2009-10, and requested the government not to touch those areas which fall under “no go” zones.
The Congress Rajya Sabha MP and former Union environment minister, Ramesh, in his letter also cited an example of coal block near Tadoba tiger reserve in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra which would require diversion of around 1200 hectares of rich forests. He said “some politically powerful power producers have had their eyes on some of these coal blocks – the one dangerously near Tadoba”.
Nine major coalfields had been studied during the UPA-II government in 2009-10. While 70% of the coal blocks fell in “go” areas, remaining 30% were in “no go” areas - it means these 30% of the areas should not be considered for mining under any circumstances whatsoever.
“I know that this 70:30 mix has been considerably diluted over the years,” said Ramesh in his letter to Javadekar who had on Thursday called the decision of commercial coal mining “historical” and tweeted, “This will unleash coal power of India.”
Highest 11 out of 41 coal blocks are in Madhya Pradesh followed by nine each in

Jharkhand

, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, and three in Maharashtra. Environmentalists too observed that many coal blocks, released for auction, fall in areas of very rich

biodiversity

with few of them being even very close to tiger and elephant corridors.
“The 41 coal blocks will open up several greenfield areas for mining which are important wildlife habitats and support livelihoods of several communities,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher on environment issues with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). She noted that the move is not only blind to important localised aspects but also has completely sidestepped the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on climate change.
Expressing his concerns over the government’s move on auction of coal blocks for commercial mining, Ramesh in his letter said, “At a time when we should be thinking seriously of peaking or plateauing of coal production, the Prime Minister’s statement shows that he does not ‘walk the talk’ as far what he preaches to the world on climate change is concerned.”
The Prime Minister, however, while launching the auction process on Thursday had said that the reforms in the coal sector would ensure that India’s commitment to protect environment doesn’t get weakened.
“Latest technology can be introduced to make gas from coal. And environment will be protected with steps like coal gasification. Coal gas will be used in transport and cooking while Urea and steel will promote manufacturing industries. We have set a target to gasify around 100 million ton coal by the year 2030. I am told that four projects have been identified for this purpose and around 20 thousand crore rupees will be invested in this process,” said Modi.
He also underlined that the extra revenue generated through coal production will be used for public welfare schemes there in the states having huge stock of coal.
“States will also continue to get help from the District Mineral Fund. A major chunk of this Fund is being utilized in development of essential facilities in the areas surrounding coal mines. We are following the objective of making people of mineral rich areas wealthy,” said the Prime Minister.

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