Virtually all new coal fields and planned power plants are in states that have India’s largest contiguous tiger landscape
More than one million hectares (ha) of standing forest in central India is under threat of destruction from coal mining. Of this, 186,600 ha has tiger presence, over 277,600 ha has leopard presence and 55,900 ha has elephant presence. This is the conclusion of a report by non-profit Greenpeace.
The NGO with the help of Ecoinformatics Lab of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), a Bengaluru-based non-profit, placed GIS maps of 13 major coal fields at various stages of exploitation in central India over the forest cover and the officially recorded tiger, leopard and elephant habitats. “Virtually all new coal mining, and most of the planned power plants are located in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and parts of Odisha and eastern Maharashtra,” says the report—How Coal Mining is Trashing Tigerland. The same region is also India’s largest contiguous tiger landscape. The report shows that at least 10 tiger reserves in these states are very close to 13 coal fields. It says that of the total 1,104,000 ha of standing forest which overlaps with these coal fileds, over 739,000 ha is dense forest and over 354,000 ha lies within the 10 km buffer of a protected area.
While these coalfields are at various stages of exploitation, the demarcation of coalfields in these areas is a prescription for disaster. “The Planning Commission projects coal requirement for electricity generation in 2031-2032 in the range of 1,475 to 1,659 million tonnes. This is more than double the current coal consumption. Given the high cost of importing coal, the bulk of this demand would need to be met through domestic coal production. This means that virtually all forest areas in these 13 coalfields, and many more besides, will need to be opened,” says Ashish Fernandes of Greenpeace. The report says that connecting corridors between major protected areas will be either severed or heavily disturbed by coal mining and related infrastructure. Specifically, corridors in the Bandhavgarh-Sanjay-Palamau tiger reserve belt, corridors between Palamau-Lawalong-Hazaribagh, between Tadoba and Bor-Umred-Karandla, Pench and Bor, Pench and Satpura, Tadoba and Kawal, Tadoba and Chaprala/Indravati and Satkosia Gorge and Simlipal stand to be affected. The 13 coalfields will impact no fewer than eight tiger reserves in varying degrees due to the loss of connecting corridors as a result of coal mining. These reserves harbour an estimated 230 tigers, and the connecting corridors are essential for their long term survival, says the report.
An analysis by Delhi based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) of forest and environment clearances granted to various projects by the environment ministry show that in the 11th Five Year Plan, the mine leases for coal and coal production capacity have doubled. The forestland diverted for coal mining during 11th Plan alone is equivalent to forestland diverted for all mining projects in the 10th Five Year Plan. All this has been happening without considering the cumulative impact of the coal mining on ecology, forest and wildlife, said the CSE study. By order of the Supreme Court, any mining within 10 km of protected areas requires the permission of the National Board for Wildlife. “This does not seem to be happening while clearing the coal blocks,” says Fernandes.
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