Will Coal Mining In Dehing Patkai Be Stopped?

At least two PILs were filed at the Gauhati High Court against the coal mining at the Amazon of the East

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The Gauhati High Court has taken up a suo moto case against the coal mining issue in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary on Thursday.

Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia stated that the sou moto PIL has been taken against the issue while they were hearing two PILs on the mining which has been termed illegal. The court will be hearing the cases on July 20.

The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended approval of Coal India Limited’s proposal to legalize mining in the sanctuary and basically in an area which is an Elephant Reserve. This had sparked severe outrage among netizens and environmentalists concerned about the conservation of the forest.

The High Court opined that there was no environment clearance for the ongoing mining and took the case.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed at the Gauhati High Court opposing the Open Cast Project for coal mining projected in the proposed Seleki Proposed Reserve Forest in Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.

The PIL was filed by practising advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amarjyoti Deka on May 26. The plea was filed online against the open-cast project by North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of Coal India Limited, near the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is referred to as the Amazon of the East and it is spread over a huge area in the upper Assam region.

Earlier All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) criticized the National Board for Wildlife move to permit Coal India Limited to carry out extraction in 98.59 hectares of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and termed the move as unacceptable.

Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, general secretary, AASU said that the order for the coal extraction is a threat to the bio-diversity to the sanctuary. “A part of it is also an elephant reserve and by the extraction, the habitat will be at grave threat. By no means can this be ever accepted”, he added.

Lurin added that there are a huge number of mammals and birds in the forest and the government now seems to be putting them on the risk just because of making money.

Gogoi added that the AASU warns the government to take the step for mining back and refrain from activities that might deteriorate the environment in Assam.

Postgraduate Students’ Union (PGSU) of Gauhati University said, “Illegal mining has already damaged the rainforest. Recently, NBWL has permitted Coal India Limited to start extraction in 98.59 hectares of land at Dehing Patkai in Saleki– an Elephant Reserve area. It will completely destroy the Sanctuary.”

There are 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species and 30 butterfly species have been recorded in the area.

The most common mammal species of this sanctuary are hoolock gibbon, slow loris, pig-tailed macaque, stump-tailed macaque, capped langur, Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, gaur, Chinese pangolin, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan squirrel, leopard cat, clouded leopard, porcupine, crab-eating mongoose, sambar, sun bear, binturong, barking deer, golden cat and marbled cat.

Dehing Patkai rainforest harbours about 293 bird species, belonging to 174 genera and 51 families.

It may be mentioned that there are several allegations of illegal mining going on in Reserved Forests of Margherita.

Some of the major areas where alleged illegal mining takes place are Bomgara, Namdang, Aradhara, Ledo and Bargolai.

Some sources have named that three persons are the main kingpins behind these illegal mining and transportation. They have been named as Sunil Gurung, Gobin Chetri and Disem Tipomiyan. Along with them, there have been several allegations by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) the BJP-led government in Assam was not taking action against “coal syndicate” as Bhaskar Sharma, the party’s MLA from Margherita in Upper Assam is involved in the illegal business.

Following the suo moto cognizance by the HC, people are now concerned about the issue more and are hoping that the court takes an appropriate step so that the mining in the Amazon of the East is stopped and the environment and biodiversity are saved.

There have been several protests across the state as well as the country in connection with the mining clearance and even though the state government has stated that they are committed to protecting the biodiversity in the state, there are continuous reports and claims of mining still is going on in the state. Even, claims of mining going in Dehing Patkai has been there and the government so far seems to be failing in assuring the people of the state regarding this issue.