BATHINDA: A new joint investigation by Centre for Science & Environment(CSE)/Down to Earth magazine has raised serious questions about the rationale behind the governments recent move to auction more coal blocks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that 41 new coal blocks would be opened for auction to the private sector on June 18, 2020. The logic offered by government behind the decision is that country needs coal to power its energy and industrial sectors.
Releasing Down to Earths investigation report at a webinar on Tuesday, magazine editor Sunita Narain said: “Our forests are where our coal reserves are – forests and coal are intrinsically linked in India. And our poorest people live in these areas, which also hold our most abundant watersheds. If at all we have to mine coal we need to do after careful consideration and not to destroy forests needlessly”.
She added: “We recognise the fact that India needs energy security. We need access to energy to meet the needs of millions of people. But mining and using coal has immense environmental impacts that are detrimental for our forests, water bodies”.
Since 1980, when the Forest Conservation Act was enacted, India has diverted 0.53 million hectares of forestland for mining – the bulk of it for coal. 49 coal mining projects have been cleared since 2015. This is expected to have led to the decimation of over 19,000 hectares of forestland; cutting down of over 1 million trees; and displacement of over 10,000 families, says the investigation.
Said Narain: “There is clear evidence that existing processes of assessing and diverting forests under the Forest Conservation Act have been subverted. In fact, our research finds that these have been weakened so much that they have become farcical.”
The government argues that it has devised a sophisticated decision support system so that each forest block, which is required to be diverted for mining, can be assessed in terms of ecological, hydrological and other parameters. However, DTEs investigation finds that this so-called scientific process of decision-making has been made meaningless. This has happened because there is lack of data on the ecological qualities of the forests which would allow for the software to identify such areas as inviolate and it can be tweaked to make the No-Go, into a Go-forest.
CSE/DTE also investigated the rationale behind the auction of new coal mines to understand which sector would consume larger quantities of coal – so needed for energy security and self-reliant India. It finds that whereas today, over 70 per cent of the coal is consumed in the thermal power industry, this is not expected to growRead More – Source