The report of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) fact finding team (FFT) submitted on February 18, 2021, on the Tikok open cast coal mining project of the Coal India Ltd (CIL) throws new light on the issue of diverting a 98.58-hectare area of the Saleki proposed reserved forest for coal mining.
The issue of leasing this Saleki area to CIL for Tikok open cast mining was in the eye of the storm last year and several circles were up in arms over the idea of leasing out this area for coal mining, predicting adverse impacts on the proposed reserved forest (PRF)’s environment, as well as the neighbouring Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a part of the State’s rainforest heritage. Some circles even equated CIL mining operations there with the illegal coal mining activities of the coal mafia in the greater Margherita areas. The report has been obtained by RTI-cum-environment activist Rohit Choudhury through an RTI application.
The report says CIL mining in Tikok preceded the 1976 notification of the Saleki PRF and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, as well. It maintains that despite the open cast mining project (OCP) forming a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve (Block 3), it is located more than nine km away from the Dehing Patkai WLS. The Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the WLS indicates that the maximum distance of the ESZ is 7.5 km.
“Hence the Tikok OCP also falls outside the ESZ of the Dehing Patkai WLS. It was further informed that the OCP does not form any part of the elephant corridor and that no movement of elephants in the sites has been observed in the recent times,” it says.
The Tikok OCP falls under the CIL’s Namdang Coal Grant Lease and its four sq mile mining lease area. The CIL lease over the area ended on April 30, 2003. FFT says CIL applied to the State’s geology and mining department seeking lease renewal on July 17, 2002, about a year before the expiry of the lease period.
On August 10, 2004, a letter from the Union Ministry of Coal and Mines, said the Centre has decided to consider, under Section 31 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the request of the coal companies to authorise working of these mines for a further period of 30 years beyond the lease period considering the country’s energy security. Thus, the CIL’s Tikok lease was validated up to February 1, 2033, says the fact finding team.
The CIL appears to have submitted the proposals for diversion of forest land for Tikok OCP through its November 28, 2003 letter. CIL also forwarded these proposals to the Conservator of Forest, Jorhat, and the Assam Government Nodal Officer in 2005.
However, there was no development in this regard till the MoEFCC Regional Office took up the matter in July 2012. Thus, on April 2, 2013, a proposal for diversion of the 98.59 hectare was submitted by the Assam government to the MoEFCC office.
The team says MoEFCC, through its office memorandum No.Z-11011/3/88-IA.II(M) on September 15, 1995, gave clearance for Tikok OCP reopening, subject to various environmental conditions. The MoEFCC(FC division) accorded in-principle approval to Tikok OCP on December 29, 2019.