'1.1 million hectares of forest under threat from 13 coal fields'

'1.1 million hectares of forest under threat from 13 coal fields'

Amid reports that the Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh may get forest clearance soon, green NGOs today came up with a new report highlighting a catalogue of environmental damage and human rights violations of tribals and other forest dwellers in Singrauli forests.

A joint study conducted by Kalpavriksh, an environmental research and campaign organisation, and Greenpeace claim that the scale of destruction of forests is "unprecedented" as an estimated 1.1 million hectares are under threat in the Central Indian region from just 13 coal fields.

"If the Indian government implements its expansion programme then over 14,000 tribal people will lose their traditional homes and way of life in just one coal block of Mahan alone," says the report released at Hyderabad, venue of the world's largest conference on biodiversity.

The 27-page report also called for a moratorium on coal mining, highlighting the violations of constitutional rights of forest communities.

"There should be a moratorium on all new mining in forest areas until coal availability in other areas and alternative energy solutions are assessed. Destruction of further forest areas should not be allowed when ecologically and socially more acceptable alternatives exist," the report says.

It urges the state governments to ensure that the recognition of forest rights is first carried out under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA), for the entire area proposed for diversion.

"This must especially include community forest rights. No forest land should be diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act without first complying with the FRA," it says.

"Forest areas that are important for local communities, their role in water recharge and security, their biodiversity values, and other such crucial values, must be declared permanently off-limits to mining," the report says.

The NGOs said that it took over sixteen months to compile the report, which is the first-of-its kind to speak about such a large section of communities affected by coal mining.

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