Essar, Hindalco get final clearance to mine Mahan forests for coal

Opening Mahan for mining might speed up clearance to other coal-bearing forest areas in the district, fear activists

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Thursday 13 February 2014

Madhya Pradesh’s Mahan coal block, which was granted forest clearance, falls in the inviolate category

The controversial Mahan Coal Block in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh has been given mining clearance by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).  The coal block was jointly allotted to power-giant Essar and aluminium producer Hindalco in 2006.

Essar Power, a London Stock Exchange (LSE) listed company, made an announcement on Wednesday that stage-2 forest clearance has been granted to Mahan Coal Company Limited.

It has previously been reported that between 2009 and 2010, both Essar and Hindalco lobbied hard to convince the government to grant them clearance, fully knowing that the decision will have considerable ecological and social impacts on residents.

According to Essar Power, the coal block will supply fuel to its 1,200 MW captive power plant, while the rest of the coal would be supplied to Hindalco’s aluminium smelter situated in the Singrauli district. While MoEF is yet to confirm the clearance officially, sources in the ministry have said that a set of conditions have been imposed on the coal mining company and have to be fulfilled before they start mining in the region.

Details of the new conditions imposed could not be ascertained. Earlier, while approving the in-principle or stage-1 forest clearance for the coal block, the ministry had asserted that Forest Rights Act (FRA) must be implemented to uphold the rights of the forest dwelling communities. According to Mahan Sangharsh Samiti, a committee of those affected by land acquisitions and mining in the region, forest rights are yet to be settled.

Activists raise concerns

Mines in Mahan’s forests have reserves that can last only for 14 years. Environmental activists fear that by opening up Mahan for mining, other coal-bearing areas in dense forests which have tribal population dependent on them, might also be opened up for mining in the district.

“As feared, environment minister Veerappa Moily continues to give hasty clearances to projects that will strip thousands of their livelihood and only source of survival,” said Priya Pillai, policy officer for Greenpeace India, on Wednesday night.

“Despite clear evidence of violations of the Forest Rights Act and other mandatory conditions, the minister has pushed through stage-2 clearance for the Mahan coal block. This project involves the loss of over 500,000 trees and will impact over thousands of people in 54 villages,” added the activist. The non-profit was recently sued by Essar for hosting banners outside the façade of Essar’s office in Mumbai that said: “We kill forests”.

Mahan forests, Essar, Hindalco, coal mining, Mahan mining, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mahan Coal Block, Forest Rights Act, Down To Earth, Mahan Sangharsh Samiti, Greenpeace India

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