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Raging inferno Jharia treads on hot coals as Centre opens up mining for private sector

The district in Jharkhand has India’s largest coal reserves and is infamous for its underground fires

Priyanka Kavish 26 May 2020

JharkhandImage Courtesy:mongabay.com

With the government deciding to auction off coal blocks to private players as a part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, several concerns are being regarding the health, lives and livelihood of residents of these areas, particularly forest dwellers and forest workers. And while predictable the mining industry has welcomed the ‘reforms’ proposed by the government, one can neither ignore the threat to the environment, nor the concerns of those employed in the mining sector.

Noted activist and Green Nobel Prize winner Prafulla Samantara told Sabrang India, “The mining industry has been operating all through the lockdown. There have no precautions been taken for the health of the tribals who are working in factories that are operating during the lockdown.”He added, “There is widespread corruption in the mining industry. Companies who take coal blocks on lease will take 1000 MT but show 200 MT on paper. Natural forests have been cut down for commercial activities. If the power distribution companies hadn’t shut during the lockdown, why did the government allocate Rs. 90,000 crore to them? This is only to earn more profits.”

Jharia, a coal producing region of Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, appears to be in particular peril given how more than a century of underground coal mining in the region left the land hollow, and houses and other overground structures collapsing due to subsidence has become increasingly common. Fires rage under the surface and smoke often bellows from the earth. In fact, residents are in the middle of a rehabilitation plan to evacuate them from underground-fire-hit areas to safer places.

Here’s a deeper look at the impact of mining on Jharia’s people, environment and labour rights.

Jharia's infamous underground infernos

Jharia holds the largest coal reserves in the Jharia coalfield which lies in the Damodar River Valley. As per the data by Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), the Jharia coalfield covers an area of about 393 sq. km, out of which BCCL operates on approximately 258 sq. km. The estimated coal reserves in Jharia stand over 17 billion metric tonnes and is the only source of high-quality coking coal needed for steel production.

Resulting from poor mining practices, the nature of the coal deposits and the apparent susceptibility of the coal to self-heating, uncontrolled coal fires reportedly began in the Jharia coal fields in 1916. As per a research paper by Dr. Mita Malkhandi on the ‘Displacement and socio-economic plight of tribal population in Jharkhand with special reference to Jharia Coal Belt’, according to the investigations made in the Master Plan (2008) – after nationalization, 70 fires were known to exist there in the leasehold of BCCL, covering an area of 17.32 kilometers. In the last 100 years, the fires have nearly claimed 20 lives and destroyed nearly 200 houses.

Impact on the population

The open fires in Jharia have had an enormous impact on the people living there. A Greenpeace India report released on January 22 this year, ranked Jharia 1st and Dhanbad 2nd among the most polluted 287 cities and towns.

Impact on livelihood

In 2001, the population of Jharia was estimated to be around 475,341. The 2011 figures of Jharia’s population haven’t been released. Out of these, the Scheduled Tribes population stands at 81,450. The underground fires have been the main reason for people migrating from the area. In a paper by Abhishek Das on the ‘Jharia Coal Mine Fire and its Impact’, he states that people are moving out of Jharia because of the fire not only because it has an economic impact as they have to rebuild their houses due to the fire without any help from the government, but also due to the physiological effect of these fires.

The fires in Jharia have greatly reduced the livelihood of the locals who depend on coal scavenging to meet their daily needs. While people are being relocated to safer places due to the open fires, the threat to their livelihood still persists. This is had led to a rise in illegal mining where locals scavenge for coal and sell it. They take 4 – 5 sacks of coal with approximately 45 kg coal and sell it to restaurant and street food-cart owners who depend on coal.

Health impact

Along with carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon mono-oxide and suspended particles etc. emanating in the fumes due to open fires cause many health problems to the locals like skin and health diseases, chronic bronchitis, asthma and pneumoconiosis (caused by coal dust). These gases get trapped in the land eventually contaminating the underground water and nearby surface water bodies resulting in sulphur poisoning causing diseases like diarrhoea and gastritis.

While coal fires do give out toxic fumes, current activities of companies like the Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) are allegedly responsible for the deteriorating air quality in Jharia. Much of the environmental pollution in the area is due to the opencast mines operated by the state-owned company, a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd. Since the year 2000, BCCL has started opencast mining that involves the extraction of coal through an open pit or borrow.

The residents of Jharia have been suffering in silence for decades. Though on one hand working in coal mines gives them a livelihood, the increasing pollution is also affecting their health. As smoke and fire escape from the fissures in the earth, life in Jharia is akin to living in a gas chamber. Respiratory and heart diseases are common, just as tuberculosis and persistent coughs due to the inhalation of poisonous fumes of carbon monoxide, the most toxic gas produced in coal gas fires.

Villagers say that the government conducts routine surveys about the plight there, but does little to actually reach a solution. They also face problems in the rehabilitation process due to the unavailability of documents as per government norms.  

Cultural impact

When asked about the cultural impact of deforestation and reckless mining on the tribal population, Dayamani Barla, veteran activist and journalist, also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Jharkhand’ told Sabrang India, “The relationship of every Adivasi is with forests, water, rivers and mountains. Without these elements of nature the collective society will crumble. The tribals live together, celebrate festivals together, their whole ecosystem is based on collective living.” Barla explains the bond between forest dwellers and forests saying, “When the tribals are separated from the jungle, their collectiveness is dislodged. They get displaced and land up in different places and their lifestyle is impacted. This leads to their language, culture and livelihood being destroyed. Their social and cultural indigenous identity will get destroyed right now and not reach the next generation. This is the reason that the Adivasi community cannot live without its forests. Hence, all over the world it is only indigenous tribes who fight for land rights and rights for environment.”

She adds, “Currently, more than 1 crore people have been displaced from Jharkhand. Most of the people who are now rickshaw pullers or coolies, are all those who are displaced from their lands.”

Hazards due to inadequate workplace safety

study revealed that hazards were linked to both human and mechanical issues. About 40 – 50 percent of the total accidents in the coalmines were associated with the handling of mining tools, like lift-cages in the shaft, explosives used for blasting a coal seam, coal-cutting machines, tram lines and tubs, haulage engine, boilers, railway sidings or tramways, lamps and electricity. Industrialists install machine tools to undertake vertical and horizontal expansion of mining activity.

Deep underground mines and water logged mines cause a lot of danger to miners. A visit to a BCCL Boragarh underground coalmine by the team that conducted the study revealed that the structure of work and tools used were quite outdated. It also revealed that the safety lamps that workers wear use batters that sometimes leak acid causing skin burns. The lifts used to carry the workers were completely outdated too.

As mines continued to remain operational as they came under the gamut of essential services, the question of safety of workers given the social distancing clause was raised once again. BCCL Chairman and Managing Director told Economic Times that at least 3,000 workers were engaged in underground mining in three shifts with restricted activities.

Another source told ET, “The lives of workers at mines at Putki, Gopalichak, Lohapatti, Tetulmuri, Moonidih, Salanpur, Akshkinari besides other areas have been put at risk as leave apart basic hygiene issues, dust masks or sanitisers some of the mines even lack adequate water to wash hands. Neither regular medical checks ups are being done nor are there temperature measuring devices.”

The one-metre distance is also impossible to be followed in underground mines as four to five people work together to operate drill machines, push mine tubs, etc. At any given time in an underground mine, at least 50 – 60 people are present in close proximity.

Impact on environment

The unsustainable mining causes ripple effects for the generation to come. Local air and water quality are harmed, natural resources are exploited, green cover has decreased, rainfall has reduced and area under cultivable land has dwindled; apart from several health issues cropping up in the population.

A study by Sribas Goswani in 2015 on ‘Coal Mining and Indigenous Communities: A case study of Jharia Coalfields’, reads,

“Coal Mining has multiple adverse impacts on the environment: disturbance of the land resource, adverse effect on river channels and aesthetical deterioration of the landscape. Mine fire occurring mainly in underground coal seams and the effect on the land, water and air due to refuse created from mining and coal preparation units. The environmental implications of energy use arise from the fact that nearly 90% of the primary energy consumption comes from combustion of fossil fuels. The most direct environmental impact of fossil fuel use is an increase in air pollution levels  and  production of greenhouse gases  increasing  the  threat of  global  warming  and this is besides the land degradation due to mining, water pollution, and vibrations due to blasting adverse impact  on  the  health  of  the  mineworkers  and  of  the  people  living  in  the  adjoining  areas.” The study estimates that the washery and benefication activities amount to dumping of 10 – 15 percent of coal into rivers such as the Damodar.

The Damodar River is the main source of water for cultivation and sustaining the underground water table. The pumped-out water with suspended coal dust from the coal mines may cause the river to get polluted with phenolic (a toxic organic chemical) contaminating both, surface and underground water. Due to unplanned dumping of waste rock or overburden materials, the drainage flow is blocked, causing partial blockade of rivulets which could also change the original course of the rivers, thus upsetting the ecological balance and hampering settlements.

In Jharia Coal Fields, says Varinder Sahni in his paper ‘Impact of Coal Mining and Mine Fires on the local environment in Jharia Coalfield, Jharkhand’, the soil is polluted due to strip mining as it involves removal of top soil, wind erosion from overburden dumps, coal heaps, tailing ponds, dust generated due to heavy machinery used for extracting coal, burning of coal, loading and unloading of coal as this dust settles on nearby areas.

Studying the impact of changes in vegetation pattern, he said that in Jharia alone, hundreds of square kilometres of land are currently affected by surface and subsurface mining, out of which a significant portion is without vegetation cover. Re-growing vegetation on overburden dumps and mine spoils is a gigantic task as the soil gets devoid of nutrients, has acidic pH, and is often contaminated with heavy metals.

Activists cite law violations

Dayamani Barla, also explained the issues caused by mining there. Speaking about the Jharia rehabilitation plan she said, “The rehabilitation has not taken place the way it was supposed to. The mining is only going to increase as the land under mining increases. People will continue to get displaced. Economically, the people there are very poor. There are very few land owners left in that area. Most of the migration has taken place from the colliery areas.”

Speaking about land rights the veteran activist and journalist belonging to the Munda tribe said, “The land there – some of it belongs to the people and some of it is gair majarua land (community lands without deeds), but because this is a Fifth Schedule land, this land is not wholly owned by the government. It is looked after by the tribals and the government acts as a custodian of the land. This land can’t be sold. However, the government ignores this principle and continues mining there leading to the displacement of the people.”

A report by Centre for Policy Research says that with respect to the provision of the return of unused land under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, states such as Odisha and Jharkhand have done away with any possibility of returning any unused land to the landowners. The unused land in these states get deposited in the government’s land bank with land owners effectively being kept out of what they rightly own.

In the book, ‘The Wild East: Criminal Political Economies in South Asia’ by Smita Gupta, chapter 2 addresses the ‘negative externality’ of fire, showing how fire has become an essential input to the expansion of il/legal coal mining. It examines how the nexus between politics and economic crime violates policies for fire-fighting and fire prevention as also the policies of rehabilitation and resettlement.

While three separate planning organisations are responsible for rehabilitation and resettlement, victims of the fiery threat to habitats and livelihoods are progressively and illegally disenfranchised by procrastinating state agencies. Some have been forcibly evicted. The irony that many disenfranchised workers are forced by lack of alternatives to scavenge coal illegally is not lost.  

The rules and regulations of filling the coal mine cavities after extraction with a mixture of sand, water and fire-retardant chemicals to avoid damage to the surface area and prevent subsidence have never been enforced by the Director General of Mine Safety (DGMS).

It was said that certificates of the ‘good health’ of mines were issued without verification, via political pressure and monetary ‘gifts’. The book reads, “As per the law, no mining can take place at or below the surface within 50 metres of a highway or railway track; therefore, the underground mining by BCCL under and close to the highways and railway lines is a blatant violation.”

BCCL was issued a letter on the Ministry of Coal on April 5, 2002 charging it with undercutting the safety and stability of railway lines in the area by ‘indiscriminate’ mining without following safety provisions as stipulated by the DGMS. Speaking of the incident a BCCL manager was quoted saying, “‘Of course it is a violation, but the coal below the railway line was of high quality.”

The Supreme Court order dated 16 January 2008 stated: (a)s regards fires and subsidence of earth in the mining areas, two reports have been filed by the Committee appointed by this Court … It is pointed out by the learned Amicus Curiae that no serious steps have been taken either for rehabilitation of the residents of the affected area or for controlling the fires in these areas … many a time the remedial measures are not taken and whatever action is taken so far, are not sufficient.

Jharia Rehabilitation Master Plan

In 2009, the Master Plan for dealing with fire, subsidence and rehabilitation in the lease hold of BCCL was approved on August 12, 2009 by Govt. of India with an estimated investment of Rs.7112.11 crores for Jharia Coalfields. Implementation period has been delineated as 10 years after the pre-implementation period of 2 years. According to the plan, BCCL had to construct 25,000 houses at a cost of 1068.45 crores.

However, a report by Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal found the masterplan for the rehabilitation severely wanting. The Times of India cited Agarwal’s report – “Since the masterplan does not provide payment of market compensation, in the ten years since, not one legal title holder has moved.”

There are three sets of households to be moved out. One the legal title holders (LTH), two their tenants and occupiers of those lands, and third, the non-legal title holders (NLTH) who the report terms “encroachers”. The report found that the package for even the legal title holders was insufficient, and the tenants had not been taken into account at all.

The report by Agarwal found that the first essential problem is the masterplan’s cut-off date of August 2004, which means the rehabilitation process would include only the 54,179 households who were there by that date, and anybody who has come after the cut-off date would not be entitled to any ‘benefit’ under the masterplan. The report said the ‘benefits’ must be extended to the “large number of people who have settled after the cut-off date” — the current total number of households is 104,946.

The report said that the plan would serve no purpose if all the families aren’t shifted out of the area. He said, “The non-legal title holders as per masterplan was 23,837, but NLTH as per latest survey is 72,882. Therefore, GOI/ GOJ/ BCCL would have to ensure all non-legal title holders are shifted out.”

Complaining about the compensation for legal title holders his report noted that the rehabilitation package should be attractive for the families to move out. Noting that land is in “short supply”, the report said acquisition of land may be a tough and long process and may result in further displacement. “Therefore, payment of adequate compensation for lands acquired from LTHs seems to be the only way to get the lands vacated by those who have legal title to the land.” The report said that the Centre “may have to relook the masterplan as far as LTH is concerned”.

He also reported that there was no mention of tenants of the Legal Title Holders and no survey had been carried out to find the number of people or families residing or carrying businesses on such lands.

Speaking of the Non legal title holders numbering over 70,000 households, the report said that the plan contemplates a 2-bedroom accommodation of 350 sq. ft., minimum wages of Rs. 250 for two years and a nominal shifting allowance of Rs. 10,000. However, he said that merely shifting them would not be sufficient. he onus of “facilitating some income generation scheme for the families” is on the Centre, the state and BCCL, the amicus curiae noted, adding, “Means of transportation from the rehabilitation sites, at a distance from any nearby towns, would have to be developed for the displaced families to find some work.” Provide means of livelihood so that NLTH can shift or “they will go back to mines as their livelihood depends on it”.

Relief and Rehabilitation

The three categories of people there – encroachers, owners and livelihood dependents are all cited to be ‘affected persons’ in the relief and rehabilitation policy of Coal India Limited (CIL). The R&R policy if Coal India Limited also talks about ‘involuntary displacement for any other reason’, thus making CIL responsible if their mining has had an adverse effect on residents or property.

However, such persons have progressively been denied coverage, with eligibility being restricted to land losers or bona fide land owners to the exclusion of squatters and encroachers.

Even though the Jharia Master Plan is designed for CIL areas, it excludes the provision of a job to families affected by fire and subsidence, even though this is required by CIL’s own R&R policy (Coal India Limited 2008). In 2012, CIL diluted its own 2008 policy by inserting the additional condition that monetary compensation and employment would only accrue to those losing at least two acres of land.

In the leasehold lands of BCCL, the master plan deals with fire, subsidence and rehabilitation with relief and rehabilitation for non-BCCL persons in the area endangered by the BCCL, finance by the Coal Ministry and implemented by the Jharkhand government. Temporary relief and rehabilitation of a meager Rs. 10,000 per family is allotted by BCCL to those families where opencast mining is underway.

Exposing the mafia operating in these areas, Smita Gupta’s book says, “In several localities, people live in small settlements on the upper terraces of opencast mines. Many of these hamlets are also home to the unorganised contract workforces of these same mines, whose employment is as insecure as are their lives. As the fire expands into these areas and fire-fighting excavation is contracted out, BCCL in connivance with the contractors and local police – and in a shocking illegality – dynamite out ‘encroachers’, who should be considered ‘affected persons’ under CIL’s own R&R policy. BCCL gives a one-time lump sum settlement of INR 10,000 and a temporary plot on a reclaimed and refilled mined site to construct houses at the victims’ own cost – a dishonest and undemocratic ploy to deprive the oustees of their relief and rehabilitation rights.”

In the areas not endangered within the leasehold of the BCCL, CIL’s relief and rehabilitation restricts benefits to only ‘entitled project affected persons’ – families, individuals, tribals, leesees, tenants, but only those who have lost land of two acres or more. While the entitlements are many, very few turn out to be available for benefits.

The Jharia Rehabilitation & Development Authority claims that unavailability of land is the main hindrance in resettlement. While BCCL says there are no vacant safe areas to rehabilitate those affected, another take on the matter is the relationship between crime, politics and policy furthering illegal mining interests.

At the bottom of things, the illegal coal mafia is scared of losing out on cheap workforce who is willing to risk their lives to earn some money as the national government is eager to grab large mining contracts.

According to an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2019 on the Assessment of Environmental Impact due to Mining Activities and its mitigation in Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries, it observed the following shortcomings in the Jharia Master Plan.

1.       Even after lapse of nine years since JMP was approved, BCCL did not formulate fire fighting activities as envisaged in the JMP. Firefighting activities commenced only in 25 projects (as against 45 projects identified), thereby endangering the lives of the people residing in and around the fire area, besides impacting the environment adversely.

2.       Although JMP recommended adoption of excavation and back filling technique only in six projects, BCCL adopted it in all 25 projects thereby deviating from the JMP for which no reasons were found on record. National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad reported that the quantum of surface fire which covered an area of 2.018 sq. km in 2014, expanded to 3.28 square km in 2018 due to excavation. We also observed that the extent of underground fire was not assessed. BCCL stated (November 2018) that it did not have the expertise to assess it. We further observed BCCL did not explore the possibility of hiring other agencies to assess the extent of underground fire so far.

3.       Infrastructural facilities for resettlement created at a cost of Rs. 51.35 crore were lying idle. The slow pace of progress in the implementation of JMP exposed the inhabitants to the threat of subsidence and other environmental hazards.

Speaking about the dilution of tribal rights and demands, Dayamani Barla said, “The government is not giving royalty to the land owners who add to the GDP. The locals are not getting jobs in their own lands. If this continues, it is obvious that people will protest against the powers. Dalits and Adivasis have been part of the freedom struggle as have others. The Constitution of India has made provisions for the Adivasi community keeping our uniqueness in mind. The Fifth Schedule for Advisasis made this keeping in mind the relationship of the Adivasi society with the earth. If these two are separated, the tribal community will perish. The Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act is like a safety shield for tribal land owners. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 also supports the CNT Act. However, no government has implemented these in favour of the land owners. When the President signs on a bill it becomes an Act. But why does it only become an Act for the rich and not for the poor, Adivasis, Dalits and farmers? These have to be implemented. The power given to Gram Panchayats in the Fifth Scheduled has to be enforced by the President with the help of the governors who are custodians of these areas. However, they’ve all become puppets serving the corporates.”

“The RTI Act which was the main weapon to lend justice to those cheated of their land and rights, which I have used extensively myself to help the community, now even that Act is riddled with changes and loopholes. We have to correct these. Isn’t the Constitution for people like us? Are we not the citizens of India? If we are, we should be granted our rights and granted justice,” says Barla adding that if Dalits and Adivasis don’t get protection and justice, how will this earth be calm?

With accounts of residents, activists and environmentalists, it is clear that Jharia – Jharkhand’s inferno district continues to burn even after promises by government to curb mining activities there. As residents tread on hot coals in reality, a fire rages in their hearts too – one that cannot be doused with false promises of a better future.

Brief background of how mining became open to private players

Pushing for privatisation, the Union government recently opened up the mining sector to private players to start commercial mining. On May 16, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman put an end to the government’s monopoly in coal mining, stating during the fourth set of announcements regarding the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan that it will be done on a revenue-sharing mechanism. Now, any company could bid for a coal block and sell in the open market. There would be no eligibility of condition and only be upfront payment with a ceiling, she added. According to the government, the decision has been taken to reduce reliance on coal imports and improve local production. Nearly 50 coal blocks would be offered to private players immediately, Sitharaman had said.

The revenue sharing model is based on recommendations of an expert committee headed by former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha. Economic Times reported a government official saying, “The firms will be selected based on the amount of revenue they agree to share with the government. The bank guarantees for the commercial coal blocks will be slightly higher than those auctioned for the captive mines to ensure participation of serious players.”

A press release from Coal India stated, “The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has approved the methodology for auction of coal and lignite mines/blocks for sale of coal / lignite on revenue sharing basis and increasing the tenure of coking coal linkage. This methodology provides that bid parameter will be revenue share. The bidders would be required to bid for a percentage share of revenue payable to the Government. The floor price shall be 4% of the revenue share. Bids would be accepted in multiples of 0.5% of the revenue share till the percentage (%) of revenue share is up to 10% and thereafter bids would be accepted in multiples of 0.25% of the revenue share. There shall be no restriction on the sale and/or utilization of coal from the coal mine.”

It adds, “The methodology is oriented to make maximum coal available in the market at the earliest and it also enables adequate competition which will allow discovery of market prices for the blocks and faster development of coal blocks. Higher investment will create direct and indirect employment in coal bearing areas especially in mining sector and will have an impact on economic development of these regions.”

The press release also states that the revenue from the auction / allotment of coal mines would accrue to the coal bearing states and incentivise them with revenues to be utilised for the growth and development of backward areas and their inhabitants, including tribals. “States in Eastern part of the country will be especially benefited,” it read.

The announcement by the finance minister seems to have come as a big boost to companies like Hindalco, Jindal Steel Private Limited, Adani, Essel Mining, Sesa Goa, JSW Energy, Vedanta and to international giants like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, PeaBody and Glencore and Vale among a few, a report by The Hindu Business Line read.

As per Observer Research Foundation, the Centre expects coal demand of 1,250 mt in 2024, which can in no way be met by CIL alone, forcing the country to move to this market-driven approach. The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 promulgated by Union Cabinet proposed removal of the requirement to auction mines to companies ‘already engaged’ in coal mining in India. The ordinance opens up the coal sector completely for commercial coal mining for all local and global firms by clearing restrictions on end-use and prior experience in auctions. Last year, the government allowed 100 percent foreign direct investment in coal extraction amid surging imports and falling output at Coal India Limited.

Not just Jharkhand, Assam is burning too

Last month, the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) had permitted Coal India Ltd. to carry out coal extraction in 98.59 hectares of the reserve, triggering opposition by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) apart from various other organizations and individuals.

The Dehing Patkai sanctuary, also called the Amazon of the East, is spread over an area of 111.19 sq. kms and is home to over 40 species of animals including elephants, several varieties of big cats, bears and the famous Assam Macaque, over 300 species of birds, more than 40 species of reptiles and 60 types of trees and over a 100 varieties of orchids.

General Secretary, Lurinjyoti Gogoi, AASU had told The Telegraph, “On April 7, there was a meeting of the NBWL chaired by Union minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javedkar. In the meeting North Eastern Coal Field, a unit of Coal India Ltd, was allowed for open cast mining in 98.59 hectares in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve. This was in addition to the 57.20 hectares in Dehing Patkai where the CIL had carried out coal mining between 2003 and 2019. This move for coal extraction in Dehing Patkai cannot be accepted.”

Apart from this, the drilling and walkover work being carried out in the elephant corridor area by Oil India Limited (OIL) has also caused heavy disturbance in the area. Bijay Gogoi, President of Evergreen Foundation, NGO told NE Now, “The elephants of upper Dehing reserve under Jorajan area are facing problems due to the disturbances from OIL which has been carrying out some work in the area which has created problems for the elephants to cross the area. The man-elephant conflict in the area is the result of heavy-encroachment and deforestation in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve.”

Related:

All Assam Students’ Union protests coal mining in Dehing Patkai forest
Scientists urge citizens to write to demand rejection of forest clearance in Dibang Valley

Raging inferno Jharia treads on hot coals as Centre opens up mining for private sector

The district in Jharkhand has India’s largest coal reserves and is infamous for its underground fires

JharkhandImage Courtesy:mongabay.com

With the government deciding to auction off coal blocks to private players as a part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, several concerns are being regarding the health, lives and livelihood of residents of these areas, particularly forest dwellers and forest workers. And while predictable the mining industry has welcomed the ‘reforms’ proposed by the government, one can neither ignore the threat to the environment, nor the concerns of those employed in the mining sector.

Noted activist and Green Nobel Prize winner Prafulla Samantara told Sabrang India, “The mining industry has been operating all through the lockdown. There have no precautions been taken for the health of the tribals who are working in factories that are operating during the lockdown.”He added, “There is widespread corruption in the mining industry. Companies who take coal blocks on lease will take 1000 MT but show 200 MT on paper. Natural forests have been cut down for commercial activities. If the power distribution companies hadn’t shut during the lockdown, why did the government allocate Rs. 90,000 crore to them? This is only to earn more profits.”

Jharia, a coal producing region of Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, appears to be in particular peril given how more than a century of underground coal mining in the region left the land hollow, and houses and other overground structures collapsing due to subsidence has become increasingly common. Fires rage under the surface and smoke often bellows from the earth. In fact, residents are in the middle of a rehabilitation plan to evacuate them from underground-fire-hit areas to safer places.

Here’s a deeper look at the impact of mining on Jharia’s people, environment and labour rights.

Jharia's infamous underground infernos

Jharia holds the largest coal reserves in the Jharia coalfield which lies in the Damodar River Valley. As per the data by Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), the Jharia coalfield covers an area of about 393 sq. km, out of which BCCL operates on approximately 258 sq. km. The estimated coal reserves in Jharia stand over 17 billion metric tonnes and is the only source of high-quality coking coal needed for steel production.

Resulting from poor mining practices, the nature of the coal deposits and the apparent susceptibility of the coal to self-heating, uncontrolled coal fires reportedly began in the Jharia coal fields in 1916. As per a research paper by Dr. Mita Malkhandi on the ‘Displacement and socio-economic plight of tribal population in Jharkhand with special reference to Jharia Coal Belt’, according to the investigations made in the Master Plan (2008) – after nationalization, 70 fires were known to exist there in the leasehold of BCCL, covering an area of 17.32 kilometers. In the last 100 years, the fires have nearly claimed 20 lives and destroyed nearly 200 houses.

Impact on the population

The open fires in Jharia have had an enormous impact on the people living there. A Greenpeace India report released on January 22 this year, ranked Jharia 1st and Dhanbad 2nd among the most polluted 287 cities and towns.

Impact on livelihood

In 2001, the population of Jharia was estimated to be around 475,341. The 2011 figures of Jharia’s population haven’t been released. Out of these, the Scheduled Tribes population stands at 81,450. The underground fires have been the main reason for people migrating from the area. In a paper by Abhishek Das on the ‘Jharia Coal Mine Fire and its Impact’, he states that people are moving out of Jharia because of the fire not only because it has an economic impact as they have to rebuild their houses due to the fire without any help from the government, but also due to the physiological effect of these fires.

The fires in Jharia have greatly reduced the livelihood of the locals who depend on coal scavenging to meet their daily needs. While people are being relocated to safer places due to the open fires, the threat to their livelihood still persists. This is had led to a rise in illegal mining where locals scavenge for coal and sell it. They take 4 – 5 sacks of coal with approximately 45 kg coal and sell it to restaurant and street food-cart owners who depend on coal.

Health impact

Along with carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon mono-oxide and suspended particles etc. emanating in the fumes due to open fires cause many health problems to the locals like skin and health diseases, chronic bronchitis, asthma and pneumoconiosis (caused by coal dust). These gases get trapped in the land eventually contaminating the underground water and nearby surface water bodies resulting in sulphur poisoning causing diseases like diarrhoea and gastritis.

While coal fires do give out toxic fumes, current activities of companies like the Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) are allegedly responsible for the deteriorating air quality in Jharia. Much of the environmental pollution in the area is due to the opencast mines operated by the state-owned company, a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd. Since the year 2000, BCCL has started opencast mining that involves the extraction of coal through an open pit or borrow.

The residents of Jharia have been suffering in silence for decades. Though on one hand working in coal mines gives them a livelihood, the increasing pollution is also affecting their health. As smoke and fire escape from the fissures in the earth, life in Jharia is akin to living in a gas chamber. Respiratory and heart diseases are common, just as tuberculosis and persistent coughs due to the inhalation of poisonous fumes of carbon monoxide, the most toxic gas produced in coal gas fires.

Villagers say that the government conducts routine surveys about the plight there, but does little to actually reach a solution. They also face problems in the rehabilitation process due to the unavailability of documents as per government norms.  

Cultural impact

When asked about the cultural impact of deforestation and reckless mining on the tribal population, Dayamani Barla, veteran activist and journalist, also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Jharkhand’ told Sabrang India, “The relationship of every Adivasi is with forests, water, rivers and mountains. Without these elements of nature the collective society will crumble. The tribals live together, celebrate festivals together, their whole ecosystem is based on collective living.” Barla explains the bond between forest dwellers and forests saying, “When the tribals are separated from the jungle, their collectiveness is dislodged. They get displaced and land up in different places and their lifestyle is impacted. This leads to their language, culture and livelihood being destroyed. Their social and cultural indigenous identity will get destroyed right now and not reach the next generation. This is the reason that the Adivasi community cannot live without its forests. Hence, all over the world it is only indigenous tribes who fight for land rights and rights for environment.”

She adds, “Currently, more than 1 crore people have been displaced from Jharkhand. Most of the people who are now rickshaw pullers or coolies, are all those who are displaced from their lands.”

Hazards due to inadequate workplace safety

study revealed that hazards were linked to both human and mechanical issues. About 40 – 50 percent of the total accidents in the coalmines were associated with the handling of mining tools, like lift-cages in the shaft, explosives used for blasting a coal seam, coal-cutting machines, tram lines and tubs, haulage engine, boilers, railway sidings or tramways, lamps and electricity. Industrialists install machine tools to undertake vertical and horizontal expansion of mining activity.

Deep underground mines and water logged mines cause a lot of danger to miners. A visit to a BCCL Boragarh underground coalmine by the team that conducted the study revealed that the structure of work and tools used were quite outdated. It also revealed that the safety lamps that workers wear use batters that sometimes leak acid causing skin burns. The lifts used to carry the workers were completely outdated too.

As mines continued to remain operational as they came under the gamut of essential services, the question of safety of workers given the social distancing clause was raised once again. BCCL Chairman and Managing Director told Economic Times that at least 3,000 workers were engaged in underground mining in three shifts with restricted activities.

Another source told ET, “The lives of workers at mines at Putki, Gopalichak, Lohapatti, Tetulmuri, Moonidih, Salanpur, Akshkinari besides other areas have been put at risk as leave apart basic hygiene issues, dust masks or sanitisers some of the mines even lack adequate water to wash hands. Neither regular medical checks ups are being done nor are there temperature measuring devices.”

The one-metre distance is also impossible to be followed in underground mines as four to five people work together to operate drill machines, push mine tubs, etc. At any given time in an underground mine, at least 50 – 60 people are present in close proximity.

Impact on environment

The unsustainable mining causes ripple effects for the generation to come. Local air and water quality are harmed, natural resources are exploited, green cover has decreased, rainfall has reduced and area under cultivable land has dwindled; apart from several health issues cropping up in the population.

A study by Sribas Goswani in 2015 on ‘Coal Mining and Indigenous Communities: A case study of Jharia Coalfields’, reads,

“Coal Mining has multiple adverse impacts on the environment: disturbance of the land resource, adverse effect on river channels and aesthetical deterioration of the landscape. Mine fire occurring mainly in underground coal seams and the effect on the land, water and air due to refuse created from mining and coal preparation units. The environmental implications of energy use arise from the fact that nearly 90% of the primary energy consumption comes from combustion of fossil fuels. The most direct environmental impact of fossil fuel use is an increase in air pollution levels  and  production of greenhouse gases  increasing  the  threat of  global  warming  and this is besides the land degradation due to mining, water pollution, and vibrations due to blasting adverse impact  on  the  health  of  the  mineworkers  and  of  the  people  living  in  the  adjoining  areas.” The study estimates that the washery and benefication activities amount to dumping of 10 – 15 percent of coal into rivers such as the Damodar.

The Damodar River is the main source of water for cultivation and sustaining the underground water table. The pumped-out water with suspended coal dust from the coal mines may cause the river to get polluted with phenolic (a toxic organic chemical) contaminating both, surface and underground water. Due to unplanned dumping of waste rock or overburden materials, the drainage flow is blocked, causing partial blockade of rivulets which could also change the original course of the rivers, thus upsetting the ecological balance and hampering settlements.

In Jharia Coal Fields, says Varinder Sahni in his paper ‘Impact of Coal Mining and Mine Fires on the local environment in Jharia Coalfield, Jharkhand’, the soil is polluted due to strip mining as it involves removal of top soil, wind erosion from overburden dumps, coal heaps, tailing ponds, dust generated due to heavy machinery used for extracting coal, burning of coal, loading and unloading of coal as this dust settles on nearby areas.

Studying the impact of changes in vegetation pattern, he said that in Jharia alone, hundreds of square kilometres of land are currently affected by surface and subsurface mining, out of which a significant portion is without vegetation cover. Re-growing vegetation on overburden dumps and mine spoils is a gigantic task as the soil gets devoid of nutrients, has acidic pH, and is often contaminated with heavy metals.

Activists cite law violations

Dayamani Barla, also explained the issues caused by mining there. Speaking about the Jharia rehabilitation plan she said, “The rehabilitation has not taken place the way it was supposed to. The mining is only going to increase as the land under mining increases. People will continue to get displaced. Economically, the people there are very poor. There are very few land owners left in that area. Most of the migration has taken place from the colliery areas.”

Speaking about land rights the veteran activist and journalist belonging to the Munda tribe said, “The land there – some of it belongs to the people and some of it is gair majarua land (community lands without deeds), but because this is a Fifth Schedule land, this land is not wholly owned by the government. It is looked after by the tribals and the government acts as a custodian of the land. This land can’t be sold. However, the government ignores this principle and continues mining there leading to the displacement of the people.”

A report by Centre for Policy Research says that with respect to the provision of the return of unused land under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, states such as Odisha and Jharkhand have done away with any possibility of returning any unused land to the landowners. The unused land in these states get deposited in the government’s land bank with land owners effectively being kept out of what they rightly own.

In the book, ‘The Wild East: Criminal Political Economies in South Asia’ by Smita Gupta, chapter 2 addresses the ‘negative externality’ of fire, showing how fire has become an essential input to the expansion of il/legal coal mining. It examines how the nexus between politics and economic crime violates policies for fire-fighting and fire prevention as also the policies of rehabilitation and resettlement.

While three separate planning organisations are responsible for rehabilitation and resettlement, victims of the fiery threat to habitats and livelihoods are progressively and illegally disenfranchised by procrastinating state agencies. Some have been forcibly evicted. The irony that many disenfranchised workers are forced by lack of alternatives to scavenge coal illegally is not lost.  

The rules and regulations of filling the coal mine cavities after extraction with a mixture of sand, water and fire-retardant chemicals to avoid damage to the surface area and prevent subsidence have never been enforced by the Director General of Mine Safety (DGMS).

It was said that certificates of the ‘good health’ of mines were issued without verification, via political pressure and monetary ‘gifts’. The book reads, “As per the law, no mining can take place at or below the surface within 50 metres of a highway or railway track; therefore, the underground mining by BCCL under and close to the highways and railway lines is a blatant violation.”

BCCL was issued a letter on the Ministry of Coal on April 5, 2002 charging it with undercutting the safety and stability of railway lines in the area by ‘indiscriminate’ mining without following safety provisions as stipulated by the DGMS. Speaking of the incident a BCCL manager was quoted saying, “‘Of course it is a violation, but the coal below the railway line was of high quality.”

The Supreme Court order dated 16 January 2008 stated: (a)s regards fires and subsidence of earth in the mining areas, two reports have been filed by the Committee appointed by this Court … It is pointed out by the learned Amicus Curiae that no serious steps have been taken either for rehabilitation of the residents of the affected area or for controlling the fires in these areas … many a time the remedial measures are not taken and whatever action is taken so far, are not sufficient.

Jharia Rehabilitation Master Plan

In 2009, the Master Plan for dealing with fire, subsidence and rehabilitation in the lease hold of BCCL was approved on August 12, 2009 by Govt. of India with an estimated investment of Rs.7112.11 crores for Jharia Coalfields. Implementation period has been delineated as 10 years after the pre-implementation period of 2 years. According to the plan, BCCL had to construct 25,000 houses at a cost of 1068.45 crores.

However, a report by Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal found the masterplan for the rehabilitation severely wanting. The Times of India cited Agarwal’s report – “Since the masterplan does not provide payment of market compensation, in the ten years since, not one legal title holder has moved.”

There are three sets of households to be moved out. One the legal title holders (LTH), two their tenants and occupiers of those lands, and third, the non-legal title holders (NLTH) who the report terms “encroachers”. The report found that the package for even the legal title holders was insufficient, and the tenants had not been taken into account at all.

The report by Agarwal found that the first essential problem is the masterplan’s cut-off date of August 2004, which means the rehabilitation process would include only the 54,179 households who were there by that date, and anybody who has come after the cut-off date would not be entitled to any ‘benefit’ under the masterplan. The report said the ‘benefits’ must be extended to the “large number of people who have settled after the cut-off date” — the current total number of households is 104,946.

The report said that the plan would serve no purpose if all the families aren’t shifted out of the area. He said, “The non-legal title holders as per masterplan was 23,837, but NLTH as per latest survey is 72,882. Therefore, GOI/ GOJ/ BCCL would have to ensure all non-legal title holders are shifted out.”

Complaining about the compensation for legal title holders his report noted that the rehabilitation package should be attractive for the families to move out. Noting that land is in “short supply”, the report said acquisition of land may be a tough and long process and may result in further displacement. “Therefore, payment of adequate compensation for lands acquired from LTHs seems to be the only way to get the lands vacated by those who have legal title to the land.” The report said that the Centre “may have to relook the masterplan as far as LTH is concerned”.

He also reported that there was no mention of tenants of the Legal Title Holders and no survey had been carried out to find the number of people or families residing or carrying businesses on such lands.

Speaking of the Non legal title holders numbering over 70,000 households, the report said that the plan contemplates a 2-bedroom accommodation of 350 sq. ft., minimum wages of Rs. 250 for two years and a nominal shifting allowance of Rs. 10,000. However, he said that merely shifting them would not be sufficient. he onus of “facilitating some income generation scheme for the families” is on the Centre, the state and BCCL, the amicus curiae noted, adding, “Means of transportation from the rehabilitation sites, at a distance from any nearby towns, would have to be developed for the displaced families to find some work.” Provide means of livelihood so that NLTH can shift or “they will go back to mines as their livelihood depends on it”.

Relief and Rehabilitation

The three categories of people there – encroachers, owners and livelihood dependents are all cited to be ‘affected persons’ in the relief and rehabilitation policy of Coal India Limited (CIL). The R&R policy if Coal India Limited also talks about ‘involuntary displacement for any other reason’, thus making CIL responsible if their mining has had an adverse effect on residents or property.

However, such persons have progressively been denied coverage, with eligibility being restricted to land losers or bona fide land owners to the exclusion of squatters and encroachers.

Even though the Jharia Master Plan is designed for CIL areas, it excludes the provision of a job to families affected by fire and subsidence, even though this is required by CIL’s own R&R policy (Coal India Limited 2008). In 2012, CIL diluted its own 2008 policy by inserting the additional condition that monetary compensation and employment would only accrue to those losing at least two acres of land.

In the leasehold lands of BCCL, the master plan deals with fire, subsidence and rehabilitation with relief and rehabilitation for non-BCCL persons in the area endangered by the BCCL, finance by the Coal Ministry and implemented by the Jharkhand government. Temporary relief and rehabilitation of a meager Rs. 10,000 per family is allotted by BCCL to those families where opencast mining is underway.

Exposing the mafia operating in these areas, Smita Gupta’s book says, “In several localities, people live in small settlements on the upper terraces of opencast mines. Many of these hamlets are also home to the unorganised contract workforces of these same mines, whose employment is as insecure as are their lives. As the fire expands into these areas and fire-fighting excavation is contracted out, BCCL in connivance with the contractors and local police – and in a shocking illegality – dynamite out ‘encroachers’, who should be considered ‘affected persons’ under CIL’s own R&R policy. BCCL gives a one-time lump sum settlement of INR 10,000 and a temporary plot on a reclaimed and refilled mined site to construct houses at the victims’ own cost – a dishonest and undemocratic ploy to deprive the oustees of their relief and rehabilitation rights.”

In the areas not endangered within the leasehold of the BCCL, CIL’s relief and rehabilitation restricts benefits to only ‘entitled project affected persons’ – families, individuals, tribals, leesees, tenants, but only those who have lost land of two acres or more. While the entitlements are many, very few turn out to be available for benefits.

The Jharia Rehabilitation & Development Authority claims that unavailability of land is the main hindrance in resettlement. While BCCL says there are no vacant safe areas to rehabilitate those affected, another take on the matter is the relationship between crime, politics and policy furthering illegal mining interests.

At the bottom of things, the illegal coal mafia is scared of losing out on cheap workforce who is willing to risk their lives to earn some money as the national government is eager to grab large mining contracts.

According to an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2019 on the Assessment of Environmental Impact due to Mining Activities and its mitigation in Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries, it observed the following shortcomings in the Jharia Master Plan.

1.       Even after lapse of nine years since JMP was approved, BCCL did not formulate fire fighting activities as envisaged in the JMP. Firefighting activities commenced only in 25 projects (as against 45 projects identified), thereby endangering the lives of the people residing in and around the fire area, besides impacting the environment adversely.

2.       Although JMP recommended adoption of excavation and back filling technique only in six projects, BCCL adopted it in all 25 projects thereby deviating from the JMP for which no reasons were found on record. National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad reported that the quantum of surface fire which covered an area of 2.018 sq. km in 2014, expanded to 3.28 square km in 2018 due to excavation. We also observed that the extent of underground fire was not assessed. BCCL stated (November 2018) that it did not have the expertise to assess it. We further observed BCCL did not explore the possibility of hiring other agencies to assess the extent of underground fire so far.

3.       Infrastructural facilities for resettlement created at a cost of Rs. 51.35 crore were lying idle. The slow pace of progress in the implementation of JMP exposed the inhabitants to the threat of subsidence and other environmental hazards.

Speaking about the dilution of tribal rights and demands, Dayamani Barla said, “The government is not giving royalty to the land owners who add to the GDP. The locals are not getting jobs in their own lands. If this continues, it is obvious that people will protest against the powers. Dalits and Adivasis have been part of the freedom struggle as have others. The Constitution of India has made provisions for the Adivasi community keeping our uniqueness in mind. The Fifth Schedule for Advisasis made this keeping in mind the relationship of the Adivasi society with the earth. If these two are separated, the tribal community will perish. The Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act is like a safety shield for tribal land owners. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 also supports the CNT Act. However, no government has implemented these in favour of the land owners. When the President signs on a bill it becomes an Act. But why does it only become an Act for the rich and not for the poor, Adivasis, Dalits and farmers? These have to be implemented. The power given to Gram Panchayats in the Fifth Scheduled has to be enforced by the President with the help of the governors who are custodians of these areas. However, they’ve all become puppets serving the corporates.”

“The RTI Act which was the main weapon to lend justice to those cheated of their land and rights, which I have used extensively myself to help the community, now even that Act is riddled with changes and loopholes. We have to correct these. Isn’t the Constitution for people like us? Are we not the citizens of India? If we are, we should be granted our rights and granted justice,” says Barla adding that if Dalits and Adivasis don’t get protection and justice, how will this earth be calm?

With accounts of residents, activists and environmentalists, it is clear that Jharia – Jharkhand’s inferno district continues to burn even after promises by government to curb mining activities there. As residents tread on hot coals in reality, a fire rages in their hearts too – one that cannot be doused with false promises of a better future.

Brief background of how mining became open to private players

Pushing for privatisation, the Union government recently opened up the mining sector to private players to start commercial mining. On May 16, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman put an end to the government’s monopoly in coal mining, stating during the fourth set of announcements regarding the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan that it will be done on a revenue-sharing mechanism. Now, any company could bid for a coal block and sell in the open market. There would be no eligibility of condition and only be upfront payment with a ceiling, she added. According to the government, the decision has been taken to reduce reliance on coal imports and improve local production. Nearly 50 coal blocks would be offered to private players immediately, Sitharaman had said.

The revenue sharing model is based on recommendations of an expert committee headed by former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha. Economic Times reported a government official saying, “The firms will be selected based on the amount of revenue they agree to share with the government. The bank guarantees for the commercial coal blocks will be slightly higher than those auctioned for the captive mines to ensure participation of serious players.”

A press release from Coal India stated, “The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has approved the methodology for auction of coal and lignite mines/blocks for sale of coal / lignite on revenue sharing basis and increasing the tenure of coking coal linkage. This methodology provides that bid parameter will be revenue share. The bidders would be required to bid for a percentage share of revenue payable to the Government. The floor price shall be 4% of the revenue share. Bids would be accepted in multiples of 0.5% of the revenue share till the percentage (%) of revenue share is up to 10% and thereafter bids would be accepted in multiples of 0.25% of the revenue share. There shall be no restriction on the sale and/or utilization of coal from the coal mine.”

It adds, “The methodology is oriented to make maximum coal available in the market at the earliest and it also enables adequate competition which will allow discovery of market prices for the blocks and faster development of coal blocks. Higher investment will create direct and indirect employment in coal bearing areas especially in mining sector and will have an impact on economic development of these regions.”

The press release also states that the revenue from the auction / allotment of coal mines would accrue to the coal bearing states and incentivise them with revenues to be utilised for the growth and development of backward areas and their inhabitants, including tribals. “States in Eastern part of the country will be especially benefited,” it read.

The announcement by the finance minister seems to have come as a big boost to companies like Hindalco, Jindal Steel Private Limited, Adani, Essel Mining, Sesa Goa, JSW Energy, Vedanta and to international giants like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, PeaBody and Glencore and Vale among a few, a report by The Hindu Business Line read.

As per Observer Research Foundation, the Centre expects coal demand of 1,250 mt in 2024, which can in no way be met by CIL alone, forcing the country to move to this market-driven approach. The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 promulgated by Union Cabinet proposed removal of the requirement to auction mines to companies ‘already engaged’ in coal mining in India. The ordinance opens up the coal sector completely for commercial coal mining for all local and global firms by clearing restrictions on end-use and prior experience in auctions. Last year, the government allowed 100 percent foreign direct investment in coal extraction amid surging imports and falling output at Coal India Limited.

Not just Jharkhand, Assam is burning too

Last month, the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) had permitted Coal India Ltd. to carry out coal extraction in 98.59 hectares of the reserve, triggering opposition by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) apart from various other organizations and individuals.

The Dehing Patkai sanctuary, also called the Amazon of the East, is spread over an area of 111.19 sq. kms and is home to over 40 species of animals including elephants, several varieties of big cats, bears and the famous Assam Macaque, over 300 species of birds, more than 40 species of reptiles and 60 types of trees and over a 100 varieties of orchids.

General Secretary, Lurinjyoti Gogoi, AASU had told The Telegraph, “On April 7, there was a meeting of the NBWL chaired by Union minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javedkar. In the meeting North Eastern Coal Field, a unit of Coal India Ltd, was allowed for open cast mining in 98.59 hectares in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve. This was in addition to the 57.20 hectares in Dehing Patkai where the CIL had carried out coal mining between 2003 and 2019. This move for coal extraction in Dehing Patkai cannot be accepted.”

Apart from this, the drilling and walkover work being carried out in the elephant corridor area by Oil India Limited (OIL) has also caused heavy disturbance in the area. Bijay Gogoi, President of Evergreen Foundation, NGO told NE Now, “The elephants of upper Dehing reserve under Jorajan area are facing problems due to the disturbances from OIL which has been carrying out some work in the area which has created problems for the elephants to cross the area. The man-elephant conflict in the area is the result of heavy-encroachment and deforestation in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve.”

Related:

All Assam Students’ Union protests coal mining in Dehing Patkai forest
Scientists urge citizens to write to demand rejection of forest clearance in Dibang Valley

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