Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan for a "self-reliant India" to boost the economy post-COVID-19 crisis, 40 new coalfields will be opened up in some of the country's most ecologically sensitive forests, reported The Guardian.
Along with thousands of trees torn down for the mines and roads, destroying habitats, a large number of tribals will also be displaced due to these projects.
The auction for the new coal blocks, which has already got bidders like Adani Group, India's rich and powerful industrial giant, run by billionaire Gautam Adani, has become controversial at the local and political level.
Due to their environmentally valuable status, as many as seven of the coal blocks slated for auction were previously deemed "no go" areas. Eighty per cent of these blocks are also home to tribal and forest-dwelling communities and thick forest cover.
Opposing the move or raising legal objections, four state governments – West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh - have already written to the Prime Minister. Following this, one coal block within the Tadoba tiger reserve in Maharashtra has been removed.
"If the government gave me the option to give up my life in exchange for no more mining happening in the forest, I would do it in a second," Amra, an Adivasi, told the media. He was one of the nine sarpanches who recently wrote to PM Modi, demanding to stop the auction in Hasdeo Arand.
The rich and bio-diverse forests to be opened up for mining includes four huge blocks of Hasdeo Arand's 420,000 acres of forest in Chhattisgarh, which sit above an estimated 5 billion tonnes of coal.
Amra, who has been a witness to the environmental devastation wreaked by open-cast coal mines, said that opening up more significant blocks of the largest forest in India, and handing it over to private mining operations will cause further destruction.
In 2011, after two vast open-cast mines were excavated on the forest's peripheries, the surrounding were engulfed in pollution, smoke, heat, noise and poison. The crimes in the area also went up. In addition to this, disoriented by the new hostile conditions, elephants in the area became aggressive, resulting in dozens of deaths.
If the current mining plans are carried out, five villages in the forest will be destroyed and over 6,000 indigenous people will be displaced, not to mention the thousands of hectares of trees that will be torn down for mines and roads.
"If more mining happens everything will change; the natural resources will be gone, our way of life will disappear, everything will be under threat. We are tribal people, we cannot go out and live in the cities and no amount of money can ever compensate us. There is no forest like this in the world – cut it down and it can never be replaced," said Amra.
Jairam Ramesh, India's former environment minister, is among those who have written a letter to the PM condemning the coal auctions. A survey carried out during his time in office in 2010 on the country's biggest coalfields had revealed that 30 per cent of these were "no-go areas" due to their biodiversity or resident tiger or elephant populations.
However, since the Modi government came to power, this area has been reduced to 5 per cent. This, Ramesh alleged, was a result of direct pressure from the powerful corporate coal lobby.
"Adani is behind this. He is one of the most influential forces on the government," Ramesh claimed. The Adani Group is contracted to operate two of the mines currently open in Hasdeo Arand. Further, the corporate has been pushing to expand operations in the area for years.
"Modi poses as a great environmental champion globally but his track record is one of complete loosening of environmental laws and regulations. The corporate lobbies are just too powerful and in the name of ease for businesses, environment has become the biggest casualty," Ramesh added.
However, a spokesperson from Adani group said the company "Has always strived to provide balanced and affordable energy supply to an energy-deprived population of 1.3 billion people whose per capita energy consumption is less than half the world's average and almost one-tenth of many of the developed economies."
"The Adani Group has been a leading contributor to India's vision for a balanced energy mix and an enabler of India's leadership in meeting its [Paris agreement on climate change] target," the spokesperson added.
India's coal auction project comes at a time governments across the world are moving towards a "green recovery" post COVID-19. There is "no good reason for any country to include coal" in recovery plans, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres said recently.
Delay In Afforestation After Over 2,600 Trees Felled In Goa For Power Project
While it has been over a year since Goa Tamnar Transmission Project Limited (GTTPL) started felling 2,670 trees of wild species to clear land for a substation in South Goa, the company has planted less than 700 indigenous fruit trees of the 8,100 that were promised, reported The Indian Express.
The trees were felled in South Goa between July 2019 and February 2020. "We have started the required afforestation and look forward to completing it by October 2020…we are planning to plant 8,000 trees, which would be about 6 feet tall and will achieve their full height in 3 years," the company, said.
The proposed Rs 1,500-crore power transmission network from Chhattisgarh aims to evacuate power from the Raigarh pool to energy-deficient Goa. Currently, one of its key sections, a 400kV line crossing the Western Ghats through Karnataka, is awaiting forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoeF).
In addition, the Karnataka Forest Department has flagged that a section of the project could cause "permanent irreversible destruction" to the "Malenad-Mysore Tiger Landscape".
A senior official from the Forest Department said that they are "closely monitoring" the afforestation, adding that, "Any future clearance for diversion of forest land and work permits for any intervention in forest limits will strictly depend on the company's compliance to the afforestation scheme."Also Read: EIA Draft Translated Into Three Languages Instead Of 22, Reveals RTI