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Saving Dehing Patkai

The protest against the National Board for Wildlife’s approval to a coal mining project in the Saleki area of the Dehing Patkai

Saving Dehing Patkai

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  21 May 2020 4:45 AM GMT

The protest against the National Board for Wildlife's approval to a coal mining project in the Saleki area of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in upper Assam is slowly gathering momentum. The Board had in April this year recommended that a portion of 98.59 hectares of the ecologically fragile reserve forest could be used for opencast coal mining. Wildlife activists and environmental protection groups have feared that the decision will have a tremendous adverse impact on the flora and fauna in a large area covering parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and also cause a ripple effect in Myanmar. The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary itself has an area of 111.19 sq km spread over Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, with the Assam government forest department website saying it is famous for Assam Valley Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The Sanctuary is also a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve. Dehing Patkai, said to be the largest tropical lowland rainforest in the whole of India, is home to the largest stock of Indian hoolock gibbons, and extends just not into Arunachal Pradesh, but is also part of an important India-Myanmar trans-border elephant corridor. Fortunately or unfortunately, the area also has rich coal reserves, and the discovery of coal in Assam is even older than the discovery of petroleum in the same region. Though the NBWL had allowed the coal mining project in April this year, the fact remains that illegal mining of coal has been going on in the area for several decades now, with Coal India Ltd itself landing in trouble for such activities. Names of top politicians have often figured in stories of illegal coal mining, while indiscriminate extraction of coal through open-cast mining and rat-hole mining have together already caused severe damage to air and water quality in the area. While there have been different opinions regarding the protection status of the exact area – Saleki – where the NBWL has granted permission to extract coal, it is now official that the public sector Coal India Ltd had in the recent past indulged in massive illegal mining of coal inside protected forests. The Assam forest department has only recently slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on Coal India Ltd for carrying out "illegal mining" inside a reserve forest for 16 long years from 2003 onwards. The forest department has also filed an FIR at a Judicial Magistrate's court against officials of the PSU responsible for the alleged illegal activity in around 73 hectares of land inside the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve forest between 2003 and 2019. It is for Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to step in.

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