With the deadline of India’s first commercial coal auction affixed on September 29, the Narendra Modi government is once again well on the path of destroying its own ecological riches and jeopardising its carbon credits.
The auction initially put on sale 18 coal blocks spread over Hasdeo Arand’s 4.2 lakh acres in Chhattisgarh.
Among bidders are the usual suspects the Adani Group, despite stray contrarian assurances. It is as if a plutocratic insurgency is all set to stamp out the ancient forests, at incalculable human, social and environmental costs.
India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Located in the valley of a Mahanadi tributary, Hasdeo forest sits on an estimated five billion tonnes of coal. It is also home to 86 species of trees, 51 species of medicinal plants, 34 species of mammals, 14 species of reptiles, 111 species of birds and 29 fish species.
Already, mining operations are on in two coal blocks Parsa East and Kete Basan, and Chotia since ministry approval in 2011. Proposals concerning four other blocks are being considered.
The mining has hurt livelihoods of the local population — consisting chiefly of Gonds who subsist on collection and sale of forest produce. That has depleted drastically.
Processing of dirty coal, the only kind available here, causes severe air and water pollution, in the absence of regulation, leading to climate and health hazards, including lung cancer. The people now face the nightmare of displacement en masse, in lieu of a meagre, one-time compensation.
The Lemru elephant reserve coming up on a small, unmined area of the forest — there have been 325 human and 70 pachyderm deaths due to conflict in the last five years — will cause more displacement.
The reserve itself defeats its own purpose — it is to be located safely away from the proposed mines and will act as a veritable prison for the animals.
In its eagerness to usher in private investment, the Centre has kept the revenue share of the state governments dramatically low. This was perhaps one reason why at least four states West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh opposed the auction.
Five coal blocks that belong to Hasdeo forest have been dropped from the auction, thanks to the effort of the Chhattisgarh government. It is a short breather....