Biodiversity board in Madhya Pradesh challenges coal companies
THE 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.”
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.