The Environment Ministry has delayed the green nod for a coal mine in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district, noting that the project didn’t even have the first phase of environmental clearance and that the proposal submitted by Maharashtra State Power Generation Co. Ltd was different “for which the ToR [Terms of Reference] was given”.
The coal mine project is proposed to come up in Gare Palma area of Tamnar tehsil in the district.
A January 1 letter from the ministry asked MahaGenCo to “provide comments” on a February 2020 National Green Tribunal order on the same area. According to the letter, the NGT has said that no further conversion of underground coal mines to open-cast coal mines can be permitted in Tamnar and Gharghora areas of Raigarh, “keeping in mind the environmental cost in terms of forest loss, major non-compliance in pollution control and social cost (rehabilitation)”.
The Gare Palma coal block located in Tamnar block, encompassing 14 villages, is licensed out to MahaGenCo. Tribal residents have been protesting mining activity in the area for some time now. The Indian Express in November had reported that despite a clear order by the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST) to defer public hearings, and a study by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that points to adverse impact of coal mining on health of tribals, the ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee granted its approval to the green clearance for the mine in Gare Palma.
The ministry’s letter MahaGenCo states: “Since stage I Forest Clearance (FC) for 214.869 of Forest land involved is yet to be obtained and (sic) EC will not be issued to PP till stage I FC is granted and submitted to the Ministry.”
However, for Forest Clearance, the PP, or Project Proponent, will need the approval from the residents of 14 villages, none of whom want to budge from their stand against the coal mines.
“We have seen the situation worsen and now no more mines should be allowed. It will ruin lives for not only us but also our future generations, if the government still wants to look at the capital gains, then we have nothing to say. But to save our lives and our future generations, for our rights, we will keep fighting,” one of the village sarpanches from the block said.
Despite the letter, villagers and activists believe their fight to get the project cancelled will still continue.
“We welcome the letter by the ministry. But why should MahaGenCo, despite not following the ToR, get a chance to comment? Several government reports and an NGT order have found the area unsuitable for any more mining. The tribals living there are clear that they don’t want any more mining. So, should the ecological and environmental cost not be kept in mind?” an activist working in the area said.
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