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Is coal mineral or bioresource?

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Apr 15, 2013 | From the print edition

Biodiversity board in Madhya Pradesh challenges coal companies

coal mineralTHE Madhya Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (MPSBB) has stirred a hornet’s nest by saying that coal is a biological resource and should, therefore, come under the rules of Biological Diversity Act (BDA), 2002. If the board proves its point, it will be a big win for the state biodiversity boards (SBBs), which are struggling in absence of financial aid for conservation of biological resources.

In January, MPSBB issued notices to South Eastern Coalfields Limited, Northern Coalfields Limited and Western Coalfields Limited, all subsidiaries of Coal India Limited, stating that Section 2 (c) of BDA calls coal a biological resource, and that companies were extracting it from the coalmines of Madhya Pradesh for commercial purpose without giving prior intimation to the board. MPSBB has also served notices to industries that use coal, such as cement and steel factories.

According to the board, BDA defines biological resources as “plants, animals and micro-organisms or parts thereof, their genetic material and byproducts (excluding value-added products) with actual or potential use or value, but does not include human genetic material.”

Empowered to conserve

Section 24 of Biological Diversity Act, 2002, gives state biological boards (SBBs) the power to restrict activities that violate the objectives of conservation. Under this, any person, corporate, organisation or association, must intimate SBBs about any activity of accessing biological resource. It also gives SBBs and biodiversity management committees (BMCs) the power to order, prohibit and restrict an activity in case it does not obey the principle of sharing of benefits arising outof such an activity.

Section 36 of the Act states that the Central government should develop national strategies for conservation of biological diversity. This apart,Section 41 gives BMCs the power to levy charge for accessing or collecting any biological resource for commercial purposes.

Ram Gopal Soni, member secretary of MPSBB, who opened the Pandora’s Box, says, “The board has classified different categories of industries which are using bioresources. Under this, coal is one. Coal is a fossil fuel formed when ancient plants get buried in the crust of the earth for million of years and are converted into peat.” Thus, going by BDA’S definition of a biological resource, coal is a genetic material of plants, he adds.

The MPSBB notices state that since the companies are using the biological resource, under BDA they are required to pay fee or share a part of the profit made from utilisation of such resources with the state biodiversity management committees (BMC) under directions from MPSBB (see ‘Empowered to conserve’).

In its notice, MPSBB has asked company officials to submit information regarding annual production, turnover and profit of different coalmines operated by them in the state since April 2005.

Section 40 of BDA states that the Central government can exempt companies from sharing the benefits of some biological resources that are listed as “normally traded commodities” with BMCs. The Centre can take the decision
in consultation with the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) by notifying it in the official gazette. However, coal does not figure in this list because all these years it was never considered a biological resource.

The board’s step has huge implications for the mineral industry and its users. Every fossil fuel, be it petrol or diesel, is extracted from crude oil formed by decomposition of flora and fauna and contains their genetic material.

Responding to MPSBB’S notice, West -ern Coalfields Limited wrote back stating that coal is not a bioresource even by the definition of Biological Diversity Act. According to the company, since the 13th century, coal has been known as a combustible black or brownish black sedimentary rock that usually occurs in rock strata in layers, or beds of coal seams. Coal is composed primarily of carbon, along with variable quantities of other elements such as hydrogen, sulphur, oxygen and nitrogen.

AddThis

Probably the point of discussion on COAL should move from the definition to say "Is coal mineral or bioresource?" (DTE, 15th April 2013) to the challenges while at both exploitation and power generation. These challenges include:

1. It is true that COAL is non renewable energy source and most important source for energy generation.
2. It causes for the resettlement of the habitats and affects the quality of life of the PAPs and others in general,
3. At the stage of exploitation, it affects the eco-system including the the most precious natural source "WATER", and
4. While generating power, the process causes for air pollution and contributes significantly for warming up of the area, including health issues.

Knowing the SWOT of COAl as an Energy Source, the need of the hour is to think for effective exploitation and utilization of COAl which includes:

1. Accurate mapping of Coal Resources including qualitative and quantitative estimates,
2. Modern tools of Geophysical (Surface, & Subsurface) supported by Geological will improve the accuracy,
3. Have miming plans with maximum priority for the health & wealth of the people & environment,
4. In case of resettlement, all the PAPs should get matching resettlement & rehabilitation packages so that their qualify of life should be at least equal to that of the one what they had,
5. Afforestation should be higher than what the process is going to damage,
6. See that wastages both at mining and power generation should be dumped / treated properly before dumping,

In addition, there exists several such measures needs to be taken to balance the health and wealth of the MOTHER EARTH which automatically supports for the health and wealth of the people.

8 April 2013
Posted by
Lakshmi Narayana Nagisetty

Even if there is a 'doubt', the benefit of doubt should be given to MPSBB and similar other boards as ultimately we will get something for sake of environment.

13 April 2013
Posted by
Pulak Das

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