Gogoi urges PM Modi to not allow coal mining in Dehing Patkai forest area

Guwahati, May 20 (PTI) Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not allow coal mining inside the Dehing Patkai forest area, saying it will destroy its biodiversity and the region's ecological balance.

Writing a letter to Modi, Gogoi also alleged that huge illegal coal mining is going on at Saleki proposed reserve forest, which is a part of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, in connivance of local political leaders, police and district administration.

'This area is very rich in biodiversity besides having various rare species of birds, butterfly, fish, animals, water bodies etc. Today the people of whole Assam are agitating for such a derogatory decision of Government of India and have been demanding for revocation of destructive decision,' Gogoi said in his letter.

Allowing coal mining inside the Dehing Patkai forest will not only destroy its biodiversity but will also change the ecological balance, lead to pollution, flood and erosion in the near future, he opined.

'Today whole world is facing the problem of climate change and you are the champion for preserving ecological balance... I, therefore, on behalf of the people of Assam request you to kindly withdraw the decision so that it will remain as Asiatic biodiversity hotspot and elephant reserve,' Gogoi wrote to Modi.

The senior Congress leader pointed out that the state government had notified Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in 2003 and in June 2004 this region was declared as Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

'In 2012, Coal India Ltd wanted permission for casting of coal and Assam State Wild Life Board, of which I was ex-officio Chairman, refused permission for casting of coal in this region.

'Further, it may be mentioned that unprecedented illegal rat hole coal mining is going on at Dirak Likhajan under Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary with the connivance of local political leaders, police and district administration,' Gogoi said.

He alleged that illegal mining is going on at Saleki proposed reserve forest also under Dehing Patkai Elephant reserve.

'Daily almost hundreds of loaded trucks are carrying illegally mining coal from this region to other parts of the country,' Gogoi claimed.

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.

In a statement, the Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia demanded the National Board of Wild Life to reconsider its decision to open the Saleki forest for mining activity in view of the justified misgivings expressed by a section of conscious citizens as well as students' organisations.

'It is primarily the government's duty to protect this rainforest to maintain ecological balance... Reports are rife about a cartel carrying out illegal mining activity in the Dehing Patkai rainforest under the patronage of the ruling regime.

'Now that the NBWL has taken this controversial decision in undue haste during the nationwide lockdown, fears have also naturally arisen that this illegal group will use the activities of Coal India Ltd as a smokescreen for illegal mining and transportation of coal,' the Congress leader said.

Though it was mining since 2003, Coal India Ltd (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.

The Centre gave the Stage-I clearance to the PSU major for 57.20 hectares in December 2019 with 28 conditions, including fines and action against responsible officers violating the Forest Conservation Act.

Accordingly, the Assam Forest Department last month slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on CIL for carrying out illegal mining activity inside the forest, which is termed as the Amazon of East, for 16 years since 2003.

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 fulfills the 28 conditions. PTI TR DIV ABH ABH