DOOMDOOMA: Environmentalists have intensified their protest against the decision of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for coal mining in Saleki of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve here.
The protestors have urged the Prime Minister of India, the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India, the Chief Minister of Assam and the NBWL to stop any current and future coal mining project in Saleki and the whole of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, stating that legal and illegal coal extraction is having and will have catastrophic consequences for the whole ecosystem of the region.
Due to the ongoing lockdown various NGOs and environmental activists have launched a protest campaign against this issue through social media. Some among them have also begun a signature collection campaign.
It can be mentioned here that the Dehing Patkai region is already threatened by high polluting industries, such as coal mines, oil refineries , gas drilling , affecting the biodiversity of the region.
"Though the NBWL has allowed the coal mining project on April 7 , 2020, but, illegal mining of coal has been going by the coal mafias in the forest for long affecting the biodiversity of this virgin forestland" , alleged the environmental activists.
The Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve — of which Saleki is a part — is the largest rainforest in India. It stretches for 575 square kilometres across Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts in Upper Assam. This virgin forestland is also referred to as the 'Amazon of the East'. The biodiversity of this forestland is very rich and unique.
Among the varied animal species living here are the hoolock gibbon, slow loris , pig - tailed macaque , stump-tailed macaque, capped langur, Indian leopard , Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, gaur, Chinese pangolin, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan squirrel, leopard cat, clouded leopard, porcupine, crab-eating mongoose, sambar, sun bear, binturong, barking deer, golden cat, and marbled cat. The Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve hosts around 293 different species of birds as well. Among the common reptiles found here are the rock python, king cobra, Asian leaf turtle, and monitor lizard. Moreover, as many as 30 species of butterflies and over 100 species of orchids thrive in this beautiful tropical vegetation.
Amidst the nationwide lockdown in wake of COVID-19 pandemic, the National Board for Wildlife ( NBWL ) in its 56th meeting held on April 7, 2020 through video conferencing under the chair of the Prakash Javedkar, the Chairman of NBWL and the Minister of Forest, Environment and Climate Change of India approved a coal-mining project in the Saleki proposed reserve forest which is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. The NBWL's standing committee had discussed the proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of land of Saleki, proposed for a coal mining project by North Eastern Coal Field ( NECF ) — a unit of Coal India Limited— and gave nod to it. The NBWL is under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change ( MoEFCC ).
Earlier, the NBWL in its 54th meeting, also constituted a panel with Prof R Sukumar, a member of NBWL as its head to visit the proposed Lekhapani Open Cast Project under the Lekhapani Range of Digboi Forest Division in Tinsukia district. As per the report submitted by the panel, the Standing Committee of NBWL recommended the proposal for broken up area (57.20 hectares) for approval subject to submission of a rectified site specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Forest Department of Assam. On the other hand, for the unbroken area (41.39 hectares), the NBWL will consider the matter after the User Agency submits a feasibility report for underground mining and compliance report regarding fulfillment of all other conditions recommended by the NBWL.
This recommendation for coal mining in the forest by the NBWL has been strongly opposed by the nature lovers, environmental activists and NGOs.The protestors have opined that while giving recommendation for coal mining in the forest, the NBWL has overlooked the fact that this is a 'Protected Area' and that " it should be conserved and protected from any destructive activities to ensure the country's ecological and environmental security".