Guwahati, May 20 (PTI) The Congress, All Assam Students' Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and environmental activist Jadav Payeng on Wednesday said coal mining inside Dehing Patkai forest will harm its ecological balance and warned of strong protests if any such move is initiated.
The Coal India Limited (CIL), which has allegedly been carrying out mining activity inside the forest for 16 years since 2003, may get an official licence to resume it if the PSU major fulfils a set of 28 conditions.
People have been demanding on social media a ban on mining inside the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, which is spread over Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts. An online petition in this regard has already attracted over 52,000 signatures.
'Coal mining should be stopped to protect our climate and environment. I appeal to the central and state governments to ban mining inside Dehing Patkai,' environmental activist Jadav Payeng, who is known as the 'Forest Man of India', said.
Coal mining inside the Dehing Patkai will have an adverse impact on the ecological balance of the area, said Payeng, recipient of the UK's 128th Commonwealth Points of Light Award.
The Padma Shri awardee's contention was backed by Congress MP from Assam, Pradyut Bordoloi.
'Since this BJP government came to power in Assam in 2016, illegal coal mining increased many-fold and is patronised by the ruling politicians. Hundreds of coal-laden trucks come out of Dehing Patkai and many other areas of Upper Assam.' He alleged that hundreds of rat-hole mines are operational there and police are not taking any action despite complaints by various quarters.
'Now the government wants to damage Dehing Patkai in an organised way through the CIL. If the final approval is given to the company for mining inside the forest, nobody will be able to save it,' he said adding that the Congress will hit the streets against such devastating steps once the lockdown is lifted.
The Centre has given in-principle (Stage-I) clearance to PSU major Coal India Limited (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.
In a meeting held last month, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said the CIL will be accorded the final approval (stage-II) provided it fulfils the conditions.
Accordingly, the Assam Forest Department slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on the CIL for carrying out illegal mining activity inside the forest, which is termed as the Amazon of East, for 16 years since 2003.
The forest department has also filed an FIR against officials responsible for the alleged illegal activity in around 73 hectares of land inside the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve forest between 2003 and 2019.
Rejecting the logic of the mining advocates that the proposed area falls under Saleki, which is outside the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, Bordoloi said it falls under the Elephant Reserve and is just three kilometres from the main sanctuary.
AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said Dehing Patkai has rich biodiversity and any step to tamper with its characteristics will not be accepted.
'It has some endangered species, unique orchids and many other habitats. The NBWL move for approval is not appreciable. Even if the CIL gets the final approval, we will not recognise it and will oppose it strongly,' he added.
Gogoi stressed that man-elephant conflict will rise significantly in entire Upper Assam if their home in Dehing Patkai is touched.
KMSS president Raju Bora said the organisation and people of the state will do everything possible to protect the 'second Amazon' of the world.
'If we destroy Dehing Patkai, the entire North East will suffer. After the lockdown is over, we will launch an aggressive campaign against coal mining inside the forest,' he added.
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.
Leading environmentalists, activists, teachers and students are protesting on social media with hashtag 'Save Amazon Of East from Coal Mafias' and 'I am Dehing Patkai' against the decision of the NBWL to recommend the CIL's proposal for approval.
A mining lease was given to CIL in 1973 for 30 years.
After its expiry, CIL was supposed to apply for forest clearance but they applied only in 2012. However, mining continued there till last year, a senior forest department official said. PTI TR NN NN