Updated: July 31, 2021 9:18:02 am
Weeks after the Odisha government issued a Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) for the online auction of 11 mining blocks, including seven virgin mines, several environmentalists, wildlife conservationists and civil society members have written to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, asking him to intervene and cancel the move, fearing imminent threat to the wildlife and ecosystem.
Four of the mines are being auctioned for lease renewal, while seven are virgin mines — six iron ore mines and one bauxite ore mine—requiring large-scale felling of trees before the process of extraction can begin.
Environmentalists say that auctioning the virgin iron ore mines will destroy more than 4,000 acres of green forest, mostly in Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts. “Gandalpha forest has iron ores in 181 hectare of land where 73% of trees are Sal trees. They take over 30 years to grow and 150 years to mature. Felling of these trees, estimated to be around 9 lakh in number, will adversely impact the ecological system of the area. To have a dense forest like this again, we will have to wait for another 500 years,” environmentalist Prafulla Samantra said.
“These mines will be auctioned and the money will flow out of the state. Not just the environment but even the basic livelihood of the majority of the indigenous people living here is put under threat.”
This is the second time that the government has proposed to auction the six virgin iron ore mines – in October 2020, the government had drawn up plans for the online auction of these mines, but strong opposition by environmentalists forced it to withdraw the move. However, the government has again introduced these mines for auction and has added a new mine – the virgin Karlapat bauxite block, which lies near the Karlapat Sanctuary – a designated elephant corridor — in Kalahandi district and is considered ecologically very sensitive.
In April this year, the Odisha Board for Wildlife also passed a resolution to rationalise the boundary of Karlapat Sanctuary. “One of the members of the board had raised concerns over bauxite reserves towards the southern part of the sanctuary and the impact of the rationalisation. But the board had stated that the area is being excluded due to biotic pressure and degradation. It was only after the notification for auctioning the mines that we could make sense that the area was excluded for bauxite mining,” Biswajit Mohanty, environmentalist and secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha, said, during a media briefing Friday.
Samantra said that mining the Karlapat bauxite block would dry up 300 large and small streams in the sanctuary. “Not just the wildlife but even tribes and indigenous people living close to the forest and dependent on the resources will be adversely affected,” he said.
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