The News Scroll 27 May 2020  Last Updated at 9:43 pm | Source: PTI

Assam won''t allow opencast coal mining in Dehing Patkai: forest minister

Assam won''t allow opencast coal mining in Dehing Patkai: forest minister
Guwahati, May 27 (PTI) Trying to pacify ongoing outrage against coal mining inside Dehing Patkai forest in Assam, state minister Parimal Suklabaidya on Wednesday said the government will not allow opencast mining by destroying trees.

Visiting the Saleki proposed reserve forest, where PSU major Coal India Limited (CIL) carried out "illegal mining" for 16 years from 2003, Suklabaidya said the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is far away from the area under controversy.

"We will not allow opencast mining by destroying a forest. We will not even think about it. Our history and tradition are involved with Patkai. Swargadeu Sukapha (the first Ahom king) entered Assam through this Patkai valley and ruled Assam. Our government does not want this tradition to be destroyed," he added.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had ordered Suklabaidya, who is the forest minister, to visit Saleki, which is a part of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, to conduct a field survey on the backdrop of protests against coal mining inside the forest.

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across 111.42 sq km, while the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve with 937 sq km of area is surrounding the sanctuary in its periphery across Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.

Along with Suklabaidya, officials of the CIL, forest department and district administration visited the site on Wednesday and carried out a detailed study of the coal mining by CIL.

The Centre has given in-principle (Stage-I) clearance to CIL for mining in 57.20 hectares inside Dehing Patkai forest in December, 2019 with 28 conditions, including payment of fine and action against officers responsible for violating the Forest Conservation Act.

Opposition parties and environmentalists opposed coal mining in Dehing Patkai saying it will harm the ecological balance of the forest

However, the forest minister said, "The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is far away from this place, where I am standing now... I have instructed officials to send a detailed report within 2-3 days with proper mapping of the area.

"It will cover biodiversity such as which are the tree species present in the area compared to other mining places. After a detailed report is received, we will inform the public accordingly," he said.

Suklabaidya said that mining was going on in around 58 hectares since 2003 and it was stopped in 2019, while the government seized almost 5,000 metric tonnes of coal at various places.

"After our government came in, we have tried to work in an eco-friendly manner. We set a target to plant 10 crore trees and have already planted more than six crore. We hope to touch seven crore this year. Our green coverage increased by 222 sq km last year. We do not want to harm our trees and wild animals," he added.

Earlier this month, North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of CIL, had accepted that mining was going on in Dehing Patkai since 2003 and claimed it had applied for renewal of its lease in 2003, when the agreement had expired, but the Assam government did not act upon this for a long time.

However, a senior Assam Forest Department official had said CIL sought clearance in 2012 only, but it was rejected then. It applied again in 2019 for clearance of 98.59 hectares, out of which CIL was carrying out mining activities in 73 hectares.

In its last meeting in April 2020, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended the CIL''s proposal for legalising the mining for approval provided it fulfils the 28 conditions.

The Assam Forest Department last month slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on CIL for carrying out illegal mining inside the forest, which is termed as the Amazon of East, for 16 years.

Besides the Congress, All Assam Students'' Union, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and environmentalists, many people are protesting on social media against coal mining in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve and warned of strong protests if it is allowed.

An online petition in this regard has already attracted over 76,000 signatures. PTI TR NN NN

Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI
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