Approval given without waiting for wildlife management plan for elephant reserve
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union environment ministry has recommended clearing over 1,500 ha of forest for mining in an elephant reserve in Jharkhand. In its meeting on January 21-22, the committee that advises the ministry on forestland diversion, cleared two proposals by Jindal group of companies, JSW Steel and Jindal Power and Steel, for mining iron and manganese ore in the Saranda forest division. The forest is part of Singhbhum elephant reserve in West Singhbhum district and is considered one of the finest elephant habitats.
While JSW Steel Limited had proposed to mine iron and manganese ore in 998 ha, Jindal Steel and Power has applied for a mining lease of iron ore in 512 ha. According to the FAC minutes of the meeting, more than 80,000 trees will be cut for the mining projects. The committee also noted that the forest contains wildlife such as elephant, giant squirrel, sloth bear, barking deer and reptiles. Also, there are several other mines operating in a 10 km kilometre radius of the proposed mine.
FAC flip flop
FAC had discussed the two proposals in May and December last year and deferred the decision in the absence of a wildlife management plan for Saranda division. The committee had said it would consider the proposal only after such plan is submitted by the state government. The plan is still under consideration of the government, but FAC has already gone ahead to give a recommendation in favour of the projects. Forest diversion projects near the protected areas by rule have to be placed before the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) for its consideration. However, since elephant reserves do not have legal recognition, the mining proposals in Saranda were not sent to NBWL.
“The Saranda forest division is rich in forest and wildlife, at the same time it is rich in mineral deposits. Taking a view purely in the interest of conservation or in the interest of economic activity will amount to taking an extreme side. The committee felt the need to take a view wherein economic activity may be permitted up to an extent and at the same time conserve the natural resources,” said FAC while recommending the projects to the ministry. What is surprising is that the recommendation of FAC has come through even though the state government has shown no keenness on the project. The FAC minutes note that the principal chief conservator of forests and the state government had not given a clear recommendation to Jindal's proposal and had left the decision to the Central government.
The Saranda forest is also home to tribal people who have been opposing mining projects in the area. In 2011, the Centre had carried out massive combing operations in the forests as a part of its insurgency operations, which was followed by a development package. Activists working with the tribals had been insisting that the development package had a clear mining interest.