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Forest authority �misled� SBWL on project site

By SIVASISH THAKUR

GUWAHATI, May 27 - In yet another disturbing revelation on the allotment of new areas of Saleki PRF located close to Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to Coal India Limited (CIL) for opencast mining, it appears that the State forest authorities misled the State Board of Wildlife (SBWL) on the distance of the sanctuary from the coal project site at its meetings when the issue came up for discussion.

As per law, no mining activities can be allowed within a 10-km radius of a wildlife sanctuary. A Coal India statement on the issue clearly mentions the distance of the project site from the wildlife sanctuary to be 9.19 km. Saleki is part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve but is not within the wildlife sanctuary.

�It is clarified that the nearest distance of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary from the project site is 9.19 km and the nearest elephant corridor, Golai Powai, is located at a distance of more than 10 km from the project,� a statement issued by North Eastern Coalfields, the Assam-based coal producing unit of CIL, says.

This being the case, the forest authorities need to answer why this critical provision was violated in according mining permission to Coal India. Another question is why despite the fact that all coal mining leases elapsed in 2003, coal mining was allowed for long 17 years during 2003-2019 by the government agencies concerned in Assam turning a blind eye to the illegalities.

According to conservationists, it is perplexing why the Forest Advisory Committee or Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), which has the ultimate legal power to give permission, even considered such a mining proposal knowing fully well that these mining agencies and forest officials did not take due process under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for renewing their lease licence for 17 years since 2003.

Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, a member of SBWL that has been under fire for �clearing� the mining project which also later got the NBWL approval, told The Assam Tribune that the new members of SBWL at its 11th meeting had insisted that the proposed site should be outside the 10-km radius of the eco-sensitive zone �but the members were given wrong information by the forest department as is evident from the meeting minutes�.

�This was minuted in the 9th meeting of SBWL that the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, who is Member Secretary of SBWL, shall finally confirm by sending a senior officer to the site and only if the proposed coal mining site in Saleki PRF is found to be beyond the 10-km radius from Dehing Patkai WLS, then shall the Chief Wildlife Warden forward the proposal to the Standing Committee of NBWL for further consideration, as existing Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 permits the NBWL Standing Committee to give final official nod on �Yes� or �No�,� he said.

Pointing out that the issue had been a continuous one which perhaps started from the 7th meeting of SBWL and that already major discussions and decisions were taken at the earlier meetings, Dr Talukdar said that since the expert committee constituted in an earlier meeting had already recommended the proposal, there was no detailed deliberations done in the 9th meeting of SBWL.

�The members of the newly-constituted SBWL were not fully aware that the proposal was in fact looking for post facto permission,� he added.

Dr Talukdar said that giving post facto permission regularising such illegal mining from 2003-2019 was, in fact, a case of abetment for which all officials involved in those nefarious activities should be booked under the existing law to send a strong signal that corruption would not be tolerated.

The Assam government had forwarded the proposal (vide letter No. FRS. 108/2012/320 dated 02.04.2013) seeking prior approval of the Central government under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and it was considered by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in its meeting held on June 10 and 11, 2013 and the FAC observed that �no forest clearance was granted to the mining lease in 2003 or later period but the mining operation has been going on since 2003 in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.�

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Forest authority �misled� SBWL on project site

GUWAHATI, May 27 - In yet another disturbing revelation on the allotment of new areas of Saleki PRF located close to Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to Coal India Limited (CIL) for opencast mining, it appears that the State forest authorities misled the State Board of Wildlife (SBWL) on the distance of the sanctuary from the coal project site at its meetings when the issue came up for discussion.

As per law, no mining activities can be allowed within a 10-km radius of a wildlife sanctuary. A Coal India statement on the issue clearly mentions the distance of the project site from the wildlife sanctuary to be 9.19 km. Saleki is part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve but is not within the wildlife sanctuary.

�It is clarified that the nearest distance of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary from the project site is 9.19 km and the nearest elephant corridor, Golai Powai, is located at a distance of more than 10 km from the project,� a statement issued by North Eastern Coalfields, the Assam-based coal producing unit of CIL, says.

This being the case, the forest authorities need to answer why this critical provision was violated in according mining permission to Coal India. Another question is why despite the fact that all coal mining leases elapsed in 2003, coal mining was allowed for long 17 years during 2003-2019 by the government agencies concerned in Assam turning a blind eye to the illegalities.

According to conservationists, it is perplexing why the Forest Advisory Committee or Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), which has the ultimate legal power to give permission, even considered such a mining proposal knowing fully well that these mining agencies and forest officials did not take due process under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for renewing their lease licence for 17 years since 2003.

Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, a member of SBWL that has been under fire for �clearing� the mining project which also later got the NBWL approval, told The Assam Tribune that the new members of SBWL at its 11th meeting had insisted that the proposed site should be outside the 10-km radius of the eco-sensitive zone �but the members were given wrong information by the forest department as is evident from the meeting minutes�.

�This was minuted in the 9th meeting of SBWL that the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, who is Member Secretary of SBWL, shall finally confirm by sending a senior officer to the site and only if the proposed coal mining site in Saleki PRF is found to be beyond the 10-km radius from Dehing Patkai WLS, then shall the Chief Wildlife Warden forward the proposal to the Standing Committee of NBWL for further consideration, as existing Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 permits the NBWL Standing Committee to give final official nod on �Yes� or �No�,� he said.

Pointing out that the issue had been a continuous one which perhaps started from the 7th meeting of SBWL and that already major discussions and decisions were taken at the earlier meetings, Dr Talukdar said that since the expert committee constituted in an earlier meeting had already recommended the proposal, there was no detailed deliberations done in the 9th meeting of SBWL.

�The members of the newly-constituted SBWL were not fully aware that the proposal was in fact looking for post facto permission,� he added.

Dr Talukdar said that giving post facto permission regularising such illegal mining from 2003-2019 was, in fact, a case of abetment for which all officials involved in those nefarious activities should be booked under the existing law to send a strong signal that corruption would not be tolerated.

The Assam government had forwarded the proposal (vide letter No. FRS. 108/2012/320 dated 02.04.2013) seeking prior approval of the Central government under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and it was considered by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in its meeting held on June 10 and 11, 2013 and the FAC observed that �no forest clearance was granted to the mining lease in 2003 or later period but the mining operation has been going on since 2003 in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.�

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