Illegal coal mining was already going on in the 41 hectares of land recommended by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) for mining inside the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, revealed an RTI query.
This recommendation – the 41 hectares to be included along with the 57 hectares already being mined by Coal India Limited — had raised a massive hue and cry with protests on social media platforms and online petitions prompting Assam’s chief minister to intervene.
The RTI, filed by a noted activist, Rohit Chaudhury, now revealed about mining already going on over 17 hectares (39 percent) of the land even before NBWL recommendation, or government’s approval.
A report by the Shillong office of the Union Environment last November stated that about a nine-hectare area out of 41.39 hectares has already been broken up and operated and that another area, of approximately seven hectares, has been cleared. CIL, however, said it did not touch those lands.
North-Eastern Coalfields, a Coal India subsidiary, had gotten the lease for mining over an area of four square miles in a part of the Dehing Patkai sanctuary for 30 years, from 1973.
However, even after the expiry of the lease in 2003, North Eastern Coalfields continued with the mining activity there till the next nine years. In 2012, it sought the Assam government for a fresh lease.
Coal India mentioned that as of 2002, 12.93 hectares of the total area had been broken up, 44.27 hectares broken between 2003 and 2012 and 41.39 hectares were to be broken for coal mining after seeking approval.
According to the RTI reply, the inspection report had concluded that the North Eastern Coalfields had done illegal mining in the areas, which had been broken, for years and also in areas it claimed to be unbroken.
Through a video conference on April 17, the National Board of Wildlife’s standing committee, chaired by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, had given permission to Coal India Limited for coal mining in the area.
This led to massive protests conducted by residents and various students and environmental organizations. Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal had last week instructed state forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya to personally visit the location and file a report on the same.
The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, house to over a hundred species of animals including Hoolock Gibbon and Asian Elephant and spreads over a 111.9 square kilometers in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia district bordering Arunachal Pradesh, because of its varied flora, fauna, and dense jungles are called Amazon of the East.