Illegal mining in proposed reserve forest in Assam comes to light after 16 years

The BJP led govt has said that departmental inquiry has been initiated against forest officials and the matter has even reached the high court, where hearing will be held on July 20.


After protests raged in Dispur opposing the diversion of 98.59 hectares of the proposed Saleki reserve forest for coal mining project, a press conference was held by the Assam government saying no approval has been given but accepted that illegal mining has been taking place there between 2003 and 2019. The joint press conference held by Assam forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya and industry and commerce minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said that 24 senior forest officials in the state are facing departmental inquiry for the illegal mining.

The proposed Saleki reserve forest is a part of Dehing Patkai elephant reserve which falls under Tinsukia-Dibrugarh districts. The illegal mining went on for almost 16 years whereby Congress ruled for first 13 years and BJP for the next 3 years.

At the press conference, the two ministers said that their government is committed to protect the environment and forests of the state and would under no condition would allow mining at the cost of its forest cover. When asked whether the incumbent government allowed or were not aware of the said illegal mining, no direct answer was given except that it had formed a committee to look into the permission granted by the erstwhile Congress government.

As reported by The Telegraph, the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had in April granted post-facto approval for opencast coal mining in 57.20 hectares (of a total 98.59 hectares forestland) in the proposed reserve forest.

“Till date no final approval for mining has been accorded. Mining has been stopped since October 2019 by the state government. M/s Coal India Ltd and the forest department would have to fulfil the 28 stringent conditions and the compliance report will be placed before the Centre for grant of Stage II clearance. Only on grant of Stage II clearance, mining can begin. The area in question does not fall in the Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary,” Suklabaidya said.

Meanwhile Assam’s Tinsukhia district is in the midst of another environmental crisis with controversial permissions granted to OIL for drilling during the Covid 19 lockdown. Tinisukia district of Eastern Assam, a region dotted with reserve forests,wild life sanctuaries,protected water bodies and other eco-sensitive areas.Indeed the entire region had been formally declared to be a ‘tropical rainforest’ ruling out mining and similar bio-hazardous activities and a blowout on May 27 and subsequent fire has caused irreparable damage to the natural reserves, wildlife and human habitation.

Matter reaches court

After this press conference, two Public Interest Litigations (PIL) have been filed in Guwahati High Court, with the court also taking suo moto cognizance of the issue. The PILs are against the preliminary conditional approval given by then Congress government to Coal India for mining inside Dehing Patkai forest, stating that it violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The petition also seeks to declare Dehing Patkai as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The court has issued notices to the Centre, state, Coal India and other stakeholders and the hearing will be held on July 20.

Effect of the protests

The All Assam Students” Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and other civil society groups, besides opposition parties, environmentalists, activists, teachers and students have been protesting on this issue since May. As a result of these protests, Coal India Ltd’s subsidiary, North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) has temporarily suspended all its mining operations with effect from June 3, 2020.



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