Government withdraws coal block auction near Tadoba reserve

Published : July 02, 2020 14:21 IST

At the Tadoba Tiger sanctuary, a 2018 picture. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Ten days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the controversial auction of 41 coal blocks, 11 in Madhya Pradesh, three in Maharashtra, and nine each in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chattisgarh, the Union Ministry of Coal, Mines and Parliamentary Affairs withdrew Maharashtra’s Bander coal block from the auction.

Bander is located in the Eco-Sensitive Area (ESA) that surrounds the Protected Area (P.A.) of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). This block covers 1,644 hectares. Apart from being in an ESA, it is also part of a wildlife corridor that links the TATR to other tiger areas in Nagpur, Bhandara and Gondia districts. The corridor is a crucial aspect of wildlife conservation which allows free movement of all animals and also prevents man-animal conflict.

By virtue of its position, and also since there is an ESA notification prohibiting mining in this zone, Bander should not have been included in the 41 coal blocks put up for auction. An extraordinary gazette dated September 11, 2019, which has only recently been published, is the reason why the Ministry of Coal has withdrawn Bander from the auction list.

Why was a September 2019 gazette not known until now? According to a source who has been closely involved with the move to protect the TATR, “Due to delays in printing and then the lockdown it was not made public until now.”

When asked if the Ministry of Coal and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) would not have been aware of the notification, the source said, “This incident indicates that there is no coordination between ministries. The Ministry of Coal should not have included Bander in the list anyway. It had tried this in 2010 and had been rejected but they were just trying their luck again. They obviously have not bothered consulting with MoEFCC.”

Tweets by the former Union Minister for Environment, Jairam Ramesh, were further proof that Bander should never have been on the auction list (https://twitter.com/Jairam_Ramesh/status/1273842780503265281). He looped in the present Minister for Environment, Prakash Javadekar, to his tweet, which read: “Auction of coal blocks in very rich biodiversity areas going against ‘go’/‘no go’ classification is a triple disaster, and must be cancelled immediately. Influence of politically powerful power producers is evident. PM must walk the talk on Climate Change.”

The Twitter thread went on to add: “Bringing to your attention as well @AUThackeray. The Bander coal block is dangerously close to the Tadoba Tiger Reserve and mining there cannot be allowed at any cost. Please save Tadoba!”

Jairam Ramesh also tweeted a copy of his letter dated June 19 to Javadekar, in which he specifically mentioned the “go” and “no go” classification of coal blocks, categories that had been decided in 2009-10. Referring to the Prime Minister’s commitment on global warming, he tweeted: “What sort of commitment is this that coal blocks in very dense forest areas are being opened up for mining?... I am aware that some politically powerful power producers have had their eyes on some of these coal blocks—the one dangerously near Tadoba for instance with which I am sure you are familiar. Clearly, their influence is very evident in this decision to open up coal mining in such ecologically fragile and sensitive zones.”

A “go” area refers to revenue lands, while a “no go” area is a P.A., of which there are about 800 in the country. Also included in the “no go” category are the eco-sensitive zones that surround all P.As and vary from 1 to 10 kilometres in width. Technically, wildlife corridors, too, come under this category. “Sadly, there are no wildlife groups in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand that are fighting for the elephant corridors that will be destroyed by the coal blocks on auction there. So, the Ministry of Mines is just going ahead,” said a source. Asked as to why the MoEFCC has not stepped in to save those corridors, the source said clearly there was no desire in the Ministry to do so.

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