Forest Advisory Committee gives Stage 1 clearance to Parsa coal mining project under the umbrage of fait accompli despite clear concerns about diversion of rich forestland
The Union environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has given a nod for diverting more than 841.5 hectares of forestland for mining coal in Chhattisgarh’s Parsa block.
The proposed mining site is part of rich forest areas of Surguja and Surajpur districts. Coal will be mined from the area for use in captive power plants operated by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL). As per sources, the mining is to be done by Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises.
The decision of the Centre, however, did not go down well with the forest department of the Chhattisgarh government as the area has rich forestland and is an important wildlife corridor. “There are already two coal mines operating in the area. A 75-kilometre-long railway line has also been laid down through these hilly forests to transport coal. This is causing disruption to wildlife corridors particularly for elephants. Allowing another mine in the area will only worsen the situation” says Kaushalendra Singh, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife management and biodiversity conservation).
The additional chief secretary (forest) of the state government had also suggested that a more detailed site inspection is required before a decision is taken for diverting the forestland. However, as evident from the FACs January 15, 2019 meeting minutes, the Committee decided against this noting that “no additional information is expected to be obtained by one more site inspection”.
The Parsa coal block lies contiguous to Parsa East and Kete Basan (PEKB) and Tara coal blocks in the Hasdeo Arand Coalfields. The area is rich in forestland and most of the coal blocks are in moderately to densely forested areas. Given the ecology, concerns of biodiversity, and wildlife management, coal mining in this area has been controversial for years.
However, in the past the Union environment ministry had granted forest clearance (FC) to coal mines in the area, such as the PEKB and Tara mines. This was in fact done going against observations of the FAC that the area is too sensitive for mining. The current FAC, which has given nod for Stage 1 clearance to the Parsa coal mine, seems to be relying on the poor decision of the environment ministry in the past to justify their own decision. As reviewed from the FAC meeting minutes of July 26, 2018, the committee underscores that though the proposed Parsa coal mining area is “sensitive from erosion point of view and vegetation density”, but in the past “similar case of PEKB and Tara Coal block in Hasdeo-Arand Coal was granted approval by the competent authority by overriding the recommendation of the then FAC”.
The fait accompli situation is further clear from the observations made in the fact file related to the Parsa coal mine of the Central Government (file number F. No. 8-36/2018-FC). In the comments of the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Central), it has been clearly noted that “had it been on a standalone case of mining, given the density of forest, it would not deserve consideration for approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. However, as the proposed area is one of the 3 coal blocks, out of which mining is already going on in coal block contiguous to this area, the proposal may be considered”.
Biodiversity assessment study not considered
While the proposed mining site and the adjoining areas are part of rich forestland, however the FAC did not wait for a biodiversity assessment study to be done before taking a decision. As reviewed from the fact file of Parsa, the biodiversity assessment study is yet to happen, and the earliest possible time for the study to be done is two years. The company has indicated that the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) have been approached for such study, but the proposal is yet to be finalised.
“Biodiversity impact assessment in decisions of forest clearance is critical. The value of ecosystems and biodiversity cannot be treated as a postscript of forestland diversion decisions” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. In fact, a comprehensive impact assessment report taking into account ecological, environmental and social consequences of forestland diversion is the need of the hour to improve the integrity of FC process.
The decision on Parsa coal block raises more alarming question on further forestland diversion in the area. As per latest information of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), there are total 18 coal blocks in Hasdeo-Arand Coal fields. Out of these two are operational and now Parsa is being opened up. Three more proposals are under consideration at the State/Central government level for green clearance. Will the expert bodies of the government decide on these matters taking into account thorough assessment of environmental, ecological and social impacts of the proposed projects? Or will their decision rely on a fait accompli situation, where one mine creates justification for opening up of another mine.
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