New Delhi: Protests by activist groups and a high-profile politician are threatening to block a coal mining project of the Adani Group in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district that is to come up near the Tadoba Andhari National Park, home to the endangered Bengal tiger.
This could jeopardize the group’s 1,980MW power plant that is to come up in the nearby Gondia district and be fed by coal from the Chandrapur mine.
Two public hearings held have seen a lot of protests against the project, said an official in the state’s forest department, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Such so-called public hearings are part of the process projects need to follow before they can be approved by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), which has to clear projects depending on their size.
The country’s former environment minister and Lok Sabha member Menaka Gandhi has sought the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office to stop the project.
India’s top bureaucrat in the coal ministry said Gandhi had also written to the Maharashtra government and MoEF. He added that it was for “MoEF to take a view”. “The law is very clear and if something cannot be done under the law, it cannot be done. They (Adani Group) have to obtain necessary clearances.”
The mine falls within 15km of the ecologically sensitive area (ESA), as defined by MoEF.
This is a zone in which no industrial activity, including mining, can be undertaken. The mining lease at Chandrapur covers an area of 1,750ha, and 90% of this is forest land.
MoEF has partially cleared the power plant. It has approved a generating capacity of 1,320MW, the original capacity envisioned for the plant, and is now waiting for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of a proposal to enhance the capacity by 660MW.
An EIA looks at the environmental impact or fallout of a project. The failure to get an approval for the coal mining project, however, could jeopardize the power project.
The company is confident that MoEF will approve the coal mining project.
“The coal ministry has allocated and approved mine plan for Lohara West and Extension coal blocks, they are contiguous and will be worked as one mine only, with an estimated reserve of nearly 170 million tonnes. The process for obtaining clearances have started and public hearings have been carried out. Our power project is slated for complete commissioning by Q4 (fourth quarter) of 2011 and we will obtain necessary clearances before commencing the mining operations,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
Gandhi said the project reflected a larger trend where the local populace is often left poorer by mining. “For the last five years, the single biggest way to earn money has been through mining. It has destroyed Rajasthan, Orissa, Maharashtra and, now, Madhya Pradesh. Mining is a short- term measure for politicians and bureaucrats to make money, but makes local people even poorer by stripping them of whatever they have left.”
Interestingly, the construction of Human (pronounced Hooman) Dam, with a capacity to irrigate 46,000ha, which was initiated in 1983, was stayed following a Supreme Court order in June, because it would threaten the tiger habitat.
Gandhi’s intervention comes in the backdrop of an MoEF committee’s observation, at a meeting held on 28 April, that almost the entire lease area of the mine is in dense forest land within the Junana Reserve Forest.
The minutes of this meeting state: “The committee desired that a detailed ecological study should be carried out. Since the project falls within 10km of an ecologically sensitive area, a comprehensive conservation plan should be prepared and furnished. The plan must incorporate dedicated corridors for movement of schedule-I fauna within the region.”
Schedule-I fauna refers to highly endangered species.
Once notified, any project in ESAs that involve a change in how the land will be used need an additional clearance from MoEF.
Maharashtra, however, is yet to notify the area an ecologically sensitive one, though an official maintained that the process was under way. “Maharashtra is yet to notify its ESAs, but it is under process,” said Jwala Prasad, principal chief conservator of forests, Maharashtra.
Kishor Rithe, wildlife conservationist and president of Satpura Foundation, an activist group, said: “No politician wants to take this step (of notifying an area as environmentally sensitive). People think everything will be stopped, but it is only projects like mines and thermal power plants which actually take away tiger habitats that would be affected. Roads or schools or primary health centres don’t get affected.”