Greenpeace opposes coal blocks in eco-sensitive areas

Says 39 of 101 coal blocks to be put up for auction hurt environment

Greenpeace opposes coal blocks in eco-sensitive areas

At least 39 of 101 coal blocks, which would be put up for auction, are located in ecologically sensitive areas, according to Greenpeace which has cautioned the bidders about project delay due to difficulties in obtaining the environment and forest clearance as well as court cases.

In December, 2014 the Union Coal Ministry came up with a list of 101 coal blocks to be auctioned, of which 29 were put under the hammer in the last seven months and another 10 would be actioned between August 11-17. Eight more are in the queue.

On the eve of the third round of coal block auction, non-governmental organisation Greenpeace claims that at least 39 of those coal blocks are in ecologically sensitive areas inside pristine forests.

The claim was made on the basis of GIS analysis of 46 coal blocks, carried out by Greenpeace, which is engaged in a legal battle with the government on its India operation.

The coal blocks are spread in eight different states: Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal. About 35 blocks are in tiger, leopard or elephant habitats and 20 are within 10 km radius of a protected area or identified wildlife corridor.

Allowing mining in these areas would harm the environment as it would lead to higher risks for project developers, investors and shareholders because of more conflict, legal challenges and community opposition, said Greenpeace activist Nandikesh Sivalingam.

Drawing a parallel with Mahan coal block in Singrauli, he said the government needed to keep important forest areas off limits to mining through a transparent and rigorous inviolate policy.

Greenpeace’s opposition to government policies on Mahan seemingly was the trigger for its face off with the Narendra Modi government.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2009 came up with the idea of no-go areas where mining was not allowed. Activists now claimed that over the years, the Centre substantially reduced the no-go or inviolate areas in the forests.

The total extent of inviolate area has come down to only 94,421 hectare, which is only 7.86 per cent of the total area that has been earmarked for mining (1,200,576 ha), says a December 2014 note from the Coal Ministry obtained through the RTI route.

As per the Coal Ministry note, there were only 32 coal blocks – out of 793 blocks in all over the country – which would be inviolate. “But the Union Environment Ministry is yet to finalise even that list of 32 coal blocks,” Sivalingam told Deccan Herald.

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