On June 4,2008,Arvind Jain,chairman of CII Chhattisgarh,wrote a letter to the divisional forest officer,Korba,saying that since coal blocks of a few companies fell in the area of a proposed elephant reserve in the district,the reserve should be shifted to some other location. The companies,Jain mentioned,included JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd of Nagpur-based Dardas,now named in a CBI FIR in coal block allocations.
Subsequently,the state government decided to drop the 450 sq km proposed reserve in Lemru,Korba district,without informing the Centre even though it had already received clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the reserve on October 5,2007.
North Chhattisgarh has a substantial elephant population in Jashpur,Surguja,Raigarh and Korba districts,which also have rich coal blocks. Leaders from both the BJP government and Congress have been seeking protection of elephants in the region. The then CII chairmans letter said that the since proposed elephant reserve will block at least 40 million tonnes of coal production per annum in future,it may be shifted to some other location.
Defending the move to drop the Lemru reserve,the Chhattisgarh government says it hadnt notified setting it up till Jain sent the letter and hence there was no question of scrapping it. An elephant reserve in Lemru was just an initial concept. The state government had already proposed to strengthen three traditional elephant habitats in the state Badalkhol,Tamarpingla,Semarsot. These had to be declared as elephant reserves and the area in between as habitat management corridor. The government did not find a reserve in Lemru feasible as then the total area under elephant reserves would have become too big and unmanageable,affecting hundreds of villages, government spokesperson N Baijendra Kumar told The Indian Express.
Asked whether the government had given in to CII demands,he said: Anybody has the right to make demands. We decided against Lemru as it was found non-feasible. It had nothing to do with coal blocks or companies.
Arvind Jains letter to the divisional forest officer,Korba,said four blocks - Nakia,Seyang,Fatehpur and Fatehpur East - fell within the 10 km radius of the proposed sanctuary. Of these Syang block had been allotted to AES Chhattisgarh Energy Pvt Ltd,Nakia to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd,a consortium of five companies,Fatehpur to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd and Prakash Industries Ltd,and Fatehpur East to Visa Power Ltd,JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd,Green Infrastructure Pvt Ltd,RKM Powergen Ltd and Vandana Vidyut Energy Ltd.
Incidentally,when Nakia coal block was allotted to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd,K K Shrivastava was director (Personnel) of South Eastern Coal Fields Ltd,a subsidiary of Coal India Limited under Ministry of Coal. He would have sat in for a meeting of the screening committee at the Centre on the allocation. After retirement,Srivastava took over as CEO in Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Ltd.
Contrary to its claims now of Lemru having been non-feasible,the Chhattisgarh government had laid out its benefits while seeking the reserve a few years earlier. In April 2005,then principal secretary (Forest) P Joy Ommen had written to the Centre for creation of an elephant reserve saying Chhattisgarh had around 100 elephants and in the absence of a proper zone,man-animal conflicts were on the rise. He had also mentioned a resolution passed by the state Assembly seeking a reserve in Korba.
In October 2007,Chhattisgarh received a letter from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests approving Lemru for the reserve. Subsequently,on November 6,the principal chief conservator of forests wrote to the forest conservator,Bilaspur/Surguja circle,to take necessary steps for notification of the reserves. The letter read Lemru (Korba),Badalkhol (Jashpur),Tamorpingla (Surguja) are under elephant reserves and unless the elephant corridor links all these areas,it will not be effective. Lemru was clearly considered an integral part of the elephant corridor.
We talk of sustainable development,but do nothing. Lemru was part of a no-go area in Korba,still given to companies, said noted activist Sudeip Srivastava.
Interestingly,the state did not inform the Centre about its Lemru reserve move. So on July 29,2009,replying to a question in the Lok Sabha,Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said the Centre had granted permission to create two elephant reserves in Lemru and Badalkhol Manora-Tamarpingla in Chhattisgarh nine days after the former had been scrapped.