GUWAHATI, Aug 3 - Conservation activists have called for further widening of the ambit of the one-man judicial commission constituted by the State government to probe media reports of rampant illegal coal mining in the Dehing Patkai rainforest belt.
The forests include the larger elephant reserve and the small wildlife sanctuary.
While the probe headed by Justice (retd) BP Katakey encompasses a number of issues concerning illegal coal mining, activists point out that the inquiry notification issued by the government has been largely Saleki-centric even though it makes a reference of illegal activities in other forests (reserve forests and wildlife sanctuary) under Digboi Division.
Significantly, the official press release announcing the inquiry mentioned that the probe was being ordered in view of media reports alleging illegal coal mining and other illegal activities such as logging in the Dehing Patkai range.
�The ambit of the inquiry must be widened with equal thrust on probing the large-scale illegal coal mining across a vast swathe of forests in Digboi and Sivasagar divisions. Illegal logging has also been a major concern in all the divisions, especially Digboi and Doomdooma,� septuagenarian environmental activist Surjya Kanta Dutta, who has been campaigning against opencast mining for four decades, said.
Echoing his contention, conservation activist Mridupawan Phukan, who has extensively documented these forests, said that illegal coal mining and logging had been deep-rooted, and in order to be meaningful, the probe must cover all the forests in the four divisions in the districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar.
�The notification focuses mostly on the illegal coal mining at Saleki but there is much more to the illegalities than what was happening at Saleki. By the forest department�s own admission, Coal India did illegal mining at Tipong PRF, Jeypore RF of Dibrugarh Division, and Dilli RF of Sibsagar Division, besides Saleki PRF of Digboi Division. There has been rampant illegal opencast mining by the mafia at other forests such as Namphai, Tinkopani, Lekhapani, etc.,� he said.
Devajit Moran, general secretary of Green Bud Society, said that illegal logging by the timber mafia in connivance with corrupt forest officials had been rampant in Doomdooma and Digboi divisions. �All this needs to be probed thoroughly if these remaining biodiversity-rich evergreen forests are to survive,� he said.
The Assam Tribune had done a series of reports exposing widespread illegalities being perpetrated across the Dehing Patkai range.
�It is because of authentic media reports that the government is now acknowledging the grave issues. The forest department had been on a denial mode for a long time,� Moran added.
The commission will submit its report within a period of six months from the date of issuance of the notification.
The commission has also been tasked with looking into the allegations of violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Assam Forest Regulation, 1891, and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the process of coal mining activities carried out by Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries in Saleki and other areas.
Official sources said that the rampant violations of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 and Rules, and issues concerning regulation of mining lease, period of lease, collection of different royalties, preservation of area for conservation, penalty and recovery for unauthorised mining, restoration and rehabilitation of mined area, prevention of illegal mining, transportation and storage by any corporation, organisation or individual during the last 20 years would also come under the ambit of the investigation.
The probe will also �inquire into any other prohibited or regulated activities inside all the forests (RF/PRF) and wildlife sanctuary under Digboi Forest Division and suggest remedial measures for checking such activities.�