Chhattisgarh govt grants final approval of Parsa Opencast Coal Mining project
The Chhattisgarh government has granted the final approval of non-forestry use of land and coal mining for Parsa Opencast Coal Mining project, which falls in Surajpur and Surguja districts of Chhattisgarh, officials said on Tuesday. The approval by the Chhattisgarh government for 841.538 hectare forest land for the Parsa Mining Project was granted on April 6. Chhattisgarh’s Forest and Climate Change Department granted approval for mining with 15 conditions, which are mentioned in the approval order.
Activists claimed that around 700 people will be displaced and around 840 acre dense forest will be destroyed due to the Parsa mining project. According to the 2009 census of the forest department, around 95,000 trees were expected to be axed but now, in 2022, the number of trees will be around 2 lakh, they added.
The Parsa coal block has been allocated to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL).
In July 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change granted environment clearance (EC) for Parsa Coal Mine to operate at the capacity of 5 million tonne per annum (MTPA). In February 2020, Stage-I Forest clearance was issued for Parsa coal mine by the ministry and in October 2021, Stage-II Forest clearance was issued for the project.
On April 6, 2022, the final approval by the state government said that the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Chhattisgarh and the nodal officer for Forest Conservation Act (FCA) shall ensure all conditions mentioned.
Some of the conditions of mining mentioned in the final approval are ---firstly, the user agency (RVUNL) should upload digital map files to e-green watch portal regarding area diverted, area under compensatory afforestation, soil and moisture conservation works, wildlife management plans etc. Secondly, the status of land will not be changed as forest and the afforestation should be done within three years. The net present value of forest diverted should be submitted as per Supreme Court order/guidelines and the user agency should comply with all recommendations given by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) on biodiversity conservation. Last year, the biodiversity study conducted by ICFRE in consultation with Wildlife Institute of India, in Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, to assess the floral and faunal biodiversity of coalfield comprising 23 coal blocks recommended that total 14 coalfields may not be recommended for mining keeping in view of conserving the relatively dense moist-dry deciduous sal dominated forest tracts that provide home forest for elephants.
“The final clearance granted to Parsa coal block by the Chhattisgarh government is not only a betrayal to the tribals of Sarguja region but also detrimental to Hasdeo Bango Dam. As per 2009 census forest department, around 95,000 trees were expected to be axed but now in 2022 the number of trees would be around 2 lakh,” said Sudiep Shrivastava an environmental lawyer based in Bilaspur. Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an NGO which is raising questions over mining projects in Handeo Aranya Forest region, claimed that the state government has violated the provisions given under fifth schedule of the Indian Constitution, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and Forest Rights Act, 2006.
“The final order issued by the state government for the diversion of 841.538-hectare forest in Hasdeo Aranya Forest for Parsa open cast coal mining project is in complete violation of provisions given under fifth schedule of constitution, PESA 1996 and Forest Rights Act, 2006. The whole process of forest clearance for the Parsa coal mine is based on forged gram sabha documents and certificates from the collector. Despite the blatant disregard of the above-mentioned laws, both MoEFCC and Chhattisgarh government granted clearances, which is not at all in favour of the community and the conservation value of this area but to favour a narrow corporate interest,” said Bipasha Paul, a member of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan. She further said that there has been strong resistance of tribal communities against the project and they continuously wrote and reached out to different institutions including governor and chief minister to seek investigation of the forged gram sabha matter but in vain.
Meanwhile experts also claimed that the conditions of the final approval granted by the state government are tough and it is very difficult to implement them in a given time frame.
“The conditions given for forest clearance approval by the state government are so tough, time taking, and demand diligence for any user agency that it is difficult to implement in a given time frame. Also, the responsibility entrusted on the PCCF and the Nodal officer FCA demands stringent and upright call of duty to monitor the compliance of terms and conditions by user agency but the history suggests otherwise,” said Vijendra Ajanabi, an activist working for Chhattisgarh Vandhikar Manch. Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectare and has 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the environment ministry categorised Hasdeo Arand to be a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover but opened it again to mining because the policy was not finalised.
Elephants have a significant presence throughout the year, and are an important part of a large migratory corridor. Hasdeo Aranya forests are the catchment of Hasdeo River, Mahanadi’s largest tributary, which is critical for perennial river flow. It is also the watershed of Hasdeo Bango reservoir and thus critical for irrigation of 3 lakh hectare double-cropped land in the “rice-bowl” state of Chhattisgarh.
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