Three weeks before Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was stopped from travelling to London where she was to speak on the alleged violation of forest rights of tribals in the Mahan coal block area of Madhya Pradesh, the Ministry of Environment and Forests asked the Ministry of Coal not to auction the block as it is “located in inviolate forest area”.
Pillai was stopped at Delhi airport on January 11 on the basis of a look-out-circular issued by the Intelligence Bureau. She was headed to London for a meeting of the British all-party parliamentary group.
In an office memorandum to the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Coal — the OM dated December 22, 2014 was obtained by Greenpeace India under the RTI Act — the Director, Forest Conservation Division of the MoEF, stated: “Though Stage II FC to Mahan coal block has already been accorded, mining in the block has not been started. The block may, therefore, not be auctioned as the block is located in inviolate forest area.”
In the note, FC stands for forest clearance.
The MoEF office memorandum also stopped auction of the Marki-Mangli II block in Maharashtra, citing the same reason — “the block is located in inviolate forest area — and sought phasing out of mining “with expiry of the mining lease” in the Namchik-Namphuk coal block of Arunachal Pradesh.
On December 25, when it launched the auction process of the first batch of coal blocks deallocated by the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Coal dropped Mahan from its list of 24 blocks.
When The Indian Express sought a comment from the Environment and Forests asked the Ministry, Director H C Chaudhary said the OM conveyed the ministry’s considered stand on not mining inviolate forests. The Ministry of Coal, Chaudhary said, had not written back.
Mahan Coal Limited is a 50:50 joint venture of Hindalco (Aditya Birla Group) and Essar Power. It proposes to supply coal from the Mahan block of Singrauli to fuel two captive power plants being set up by Essar (2×600 MW) and Hindalco (900-MW).
Activists opposed to the proposed Mahan mines say the project will impact nearly 1200 hectare of sal forests, ending the contiguity of one of central India’s best un-fragmented forest zones spread over 20,000 hectares.
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