New Delhi: Days ahead of the auction of 10 coal blocks, starting on 11 August, environmental activist group Greenpeace India has cautioned potential bidders that at least 39 of the fields are located in ecologically critical areas, and their developers could face significant delays in securing approvals to mine them.
In a study released on Friday, Greenpeace also pointed to the likelihood of legal challenges and opposition from affected communities. The study was conducted for all 101 blocks that would be auctioned in 2015.
Delays could translate into higher risk for project developers, stakeholders and investors, said the study, which urged the government to protect forests from mining.
The analysis by Greenpeace India, using the Geographic Information System (GIS), said that the 39 coal blocks sited in ecologically critical areas cover a total forest area of more than 10,500 hectares. They are spread over eight states: Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal.
“By continuing to put good quality forests up for mining, the government is being short-sighted. This will harm the environment, and will also mean higher risks for project developers, investors and shareholders as it will lead to more conflict, legal challenges and community opposition, as we saw in the case of the Mahan coal block in Singrauli," said Greenpeace India’s Nandikesh Sivalingam.
The “government needs to keep important forest areas off limits to mining through a transparent, consultative and rigorous inviolate policy", he said.
About 35 of the coal blocks are in tiger, leopard or elephant habitat and 20 are within 10 km of a protected area or identified wildlife corridor.
The auction has been necessitated by a 2013 Supreme Court order cancelling the allotment of more than 200 coal blocks that it said had been done arbitrarily. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), irregularities in the allotment of coal mines caused a notional loss of ₹ 1.76 trillion to the exchequer.
“The coal scam and the Supreme Court verdict presented a golden opportunity to make amends. A transparent, scientifically rigorous inviolate forest policy was the right thing to do, in order to rearrange coal mining in such a way that it had less impact on forests, tribal communities and wildlife,"
“At the same time, this would have ensured a greater certainty for investors and project developers, but the ministry of environment has showed it is unable—or unwilling—to protect some of India’s last remaining forests from mining," Sivalingam added.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government received bids worth ₹ 2 trillion for 29 coal blocks it has already auctioned this year.
Greenpeace India urged the government to prioritize a free and fair identification of inviolate forest areas, ensuring them permanent protection from mining before any further auctions.