At a time when a social media campaign in Assam against the Centre's approval for coal mining around the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve is gathering steam and the Assam government assuring a review on the decision to allow coal mining in the rain forest of Dehing Patkai, better known as the Amazon of the East, the mining firm has finally broken its silence.
The North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), an Assam-based coal producing unit of Coal India limited (CIL) on Tuesday in press statement claimed that it is in the process of complying with stipulations and conditions laid down by the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) and Ministry of Environment & Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for mining Coal in Tikak Open Cast Project, falling under Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest of Dehing Patkai.
"It is clarified that nearest distance of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary from the project is 9.19 Km and nearest Elephant Corridor, Golai-Powai is located at a distance of more than 10 Km from the project", NEC added in the statement sent to media.
NEC further added, that coal mining in that area has been 'suspended' since October 2019 on the directive of Department of Forest, Government of Assam and that it is awaiting the Stage II clearance from MoEF&CC.
"Coal mining in Tikak OCP predates Indian independence when it was mined by AR&T Company. Post nationalization of coal mines in 1973, the collieries operating in Assam were transferred to CIL for a lease period of 30 years till April 2003. At that time the concept of mandatory forestry clearance prior to coal mining was not in vogue. It came into effect after notification of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Forestry clearances for coal mining was made mandatory from then on but coal mining project already on lease were beyond the purview of the Act till the completion of their lease as per Supreme Court's judgement," the statement further added.
NEC has further claimed that it has applied for forestry clearance in 2003 to the Assam government, and subsequently another application was made in 2012.
A Right to Information (RTI) reply had revealed that coal mining has been happening in that area even before the clearance was given by the wildlife body. The Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary and elephant reserve is known as the Amazon of the East.
Last month, the National Board of Wildlife had allowed coal mining in the area to Coal India Limited to conduct opencast coal mining in 98.59 hectares of the reserve forest. Coal India Limited had been carrying out mining in 57 hectares of the reserve forest and the fresh recommendation allowed it to do mining in another 41 hectares.
But a reply to an RTI query by a noted RTI activist in Assam, Rohit Chaudhury, has opened a Pandora's Box.
In the RTI reply, it is cited that mining-related work has already begun in 17 of the 41 hectares (or nearly 39 per cent of the area) which Coal India Limited claimed is untouched by them.