DOOMDOOMA, June 4 - In order to protect the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, people need to first save the North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) of Coal India Limited (CIL), Margherita, according to Jugal Kumar Borah, general manager of NEC, Margherita.
Interacting with a delegation from the Tinsukia District Journalists� Association (TDJA) which visited Margherita recently for an infield study on the environmental impact of the Tikak Open Cast Project of the NEC on the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, the NEC chief said that the contribution of NEC towards the country�s coal industry was only 0.01 per cent and in the last five years, NEC has been incurring loss at an average of Rs 100 crore per year.
�It is for the soft corner of CIL towards the people of Assam, that the NEC has not been closed down till date,� he said. But, of late, following the recent approval by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for the Tikak OCP which falls in Saleki Proposed Reserved Forest (PRF) of Digboi Forest Division, some false propaganda is being circulated in the media that the Tikak OCP will destroy the biodiversity of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.
�If such false propaganda against NEC continues, then CIL definitely will reconsider its soft corner for NEC. And if NEC is closed down, it would be difficult to protect the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. It is because of NEC that the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is still protected. If NEC is closed, illegal mining will increase in the region, which will destroy the entire wildlife sanctuary,� Borah said.
For the greater interest of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, people should remember to �Save NEC first to save Dehing Patkai�, he said.
Explaining details of the Tikak OCP to the TDJA delegation at the NEC headquarters at Margherita, GM (Operation) SP Dutta clarified that coal mining operations in Tikak OCP have been suspended since October 2019 on the directive of the Department of Forest, Government of Assam, and that it is awaiting Stage II clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
Currently, production is on hold in Tikak OCP. Coal mining here pre-dates Indian independence when it was mined by AR&T Company. Post nationalization of coal mines in 1973, 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 the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Forestry clearances for coal mining was made mandatory from then, but coal mining projects already on lease were beyond the purview of the Act till the completion of their lease as per a Supreme Court judgement. The NEC applied for forestry clearance in 2003 to the Government of Assam, as was the norm, and subsequently another application was given in 2012. Following these, �In Principle Approval (Stage-I)� clearance was granted in December 2019 by the MoEF&CC with 28 conditions.
One of the conditions for Stage I forest clearances was obtaining clearance from the NBWL. The final clearance, which is Stage II for this project, is to be granted by the MoEF&CC after fulfillment of certain conditions by the project proponent, NEC, and only then extraction of coal can be done.
Following a meeting in April 2020, the principle conditions were that a site specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Assam Forest Department has to be submitted by NEC for whatever forest area has been broken up, of around 57 hectares, out of the total 98.59 hectares.
The other condition was that for the rest of unbroken area, the user agency, NEC, needs to submit a feasibility report for exploring underground mining. NEC has not yet submitted the report for consideration of MoEF&CC, and green signal from the NBWL and forest clearance for the project is yet to be received for starting coal mining in Tikak OCP.
The GM (Operation) 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.
The TDJA delegation later held an interaction with leaders of NEC workers unions. Leaders of the Purbuttar Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Assam Colliery Mazdoor Congress (INTUC) and Assam Janata Mazdoor Union (HMS) also said that NEC had been incurring loss at an average of Rs 100 crore per year for the last five years and thus going through a very critical situation. For its survival, expansion of the existing mines and opening of new mines was necessary.
But recently, some wrong interpretations have been circulated in the media that NEC has obtained clearance from the government to carry out mining in the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and it will damage the biodiversity of the wildlife sanctuary, elephant reserve, elephant corridor, etc.
�Though we are employees of CIL, we too have social responsibilities. We never want to destroy our own forests and wildlife. Our mining area or proposed mining area is nowhere near any wildlife sanctuary or reserve forest. If such wrong interpretations prevail in the media, we won�t be able to carry out mining and CIL will have no alternative but to close NEC,� the union leaders said.