Greenpeace slams govt for selling 14 more coal blocks

Social organisation Greenpeace has slammed the union government's move to auction 14 more coal blocks to government-run public sector units, even as the soot from the so-called 'coalgate' scam is yet to settle and leaves many faces still blackened.

The coal ministry on Wednesday auctioned off 14 coal blocks to PSUs in the biggest allocation of coal blocks since the scam broke. But according to Greenpeace, the process is deeply flawed, as out of the 14 blocks as many as eight are under dense forest areas with the presence of tribal villages, endangered species, rivers and other water bodies.

According to a Greenpeace India report, these 14 coal blocks allocated to various PSUs will destroy 4,200 hectares of forest, including 2,200 hectares of dense forest. Besides affecting 17 villages, this will have an adverse impact on elephants, tigers and leopards in nine blocks.

These auctions also come at a time when the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) is still in the process of formulating criteria for 'inviolate' forests areas to demarcate those to be kept out of bounds for coal mining.

Condemning the allocations, Nandikesh Sivalingam, forest campaigner of Greenpeace India, said, "These allocations are being made before any informed decision is taken on whether it is acceptable for a coal mine to come up at the cost of environment and livelihood of villagers dependent on the forests."

The coal ministry seems to be jumping the gun to make the central and state PSUs sink more public money into mining projects before any informed decision is taken on whether it is acceptable for a mine to come up in a forest area considering all environmental and livelihood concerns.

This in turn could potentially lead to rejections, delays and in some cases even legal challenges for the projects. For instance, the Mahan coal block hangs fire since MoEF has held that a forest clearance would be disastrous given the forest density and impact on hydrology and pending forest rights demands of the villagers.

According to a Greenpeace analysis based on data acquired from the MoEF, coal available within forest areas is only 18,448.36 million tonnes, while more than double that (955,218.83 million tonnes) can be mined outside these areas. "Yet we see a mindless rush for coal block allocations in areas with thick forests, rather than in other areas that are free of dense forests and wildlife," said Sivalingam.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee report on coal blocks allocation revealed that out of the 195 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2008, production had begun in only 30 blocks. It said that while a majority of these blocks (160) were allotted by the UPA government between 2004 and 2008, so far production has begun only in two.

Greenpeace India also questions the government on the need to sell new mining blocks when there is failure in developing the ones that are already allotted.