At a meeting in April, the NBWL had recommended the CIL’s proposal of legalising the illegal mining, which the company was indulging from 2003 to 2019 inside the forest, for approval provided it fulfils the 28 conditions.
As part of the recommendation, CIL was supposed to submit a rectified site-specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Assam Forest Department and a feasibility report for underground mining for the unbroken area along with a compliance report regarding fulfilment of all other conditions.
“The member secretary also stated that no such reports and reclamation plan for already broken up area have been received from the project proponent or state government,” said the minutes of the 58th meeting, which were recently uploaded on the official website.
The Standing Committee, which met on July 3 through video conference under the chairmanship of the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar, also noted that the entire matter is sub-judice in the Supreme Court and the Gauhati High Court.
“After discussion, the Standing Committee recommended that the mining activity should be immediately stopped and decided to defer matter till further discussions with Coal India Limited,” the NBWL stated.
At present, no mining activity is being carried out by CIL inside Dehing Patkai forest, which is termed the Amazon of the East.
The Standing Committee also noted that unmined or unbroken area is much larger than what CIL had originally stated in its application to grant approval for a total 98.58 hectares. The company had said 57.2 hectares were mined and 41.39 hectares were unbroken.
“The State Chief Wildlife Warden stated that out of 41.39 hectares unbroken area, 16 hectares has already been broken by Coal India Limited leaving only 25 hectares unbroken area,” the document of the 58th Meeting said.
Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across 111.42 sq km, while the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve with 937 sq km of area is surrounding the sanctuary in its periphery across Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on July 6 announced that the state government will upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary into a National Park, following which environmentalists have demanded to expand the area up to at least 500 sq km.
Though it was mining since 2003, CIL sought clearance in 2012 only, but it was rejected then. It applied again in 2019 for clearance of 98.59 hectares, out of which CIL was carrying out mining activities in about 73 hectares.
Earlier in May, North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of of the CIL, had accepted that mining was going on since 2003 and claimed it had applied for renewal of its lease in 2003, but the Assam government did not act upon this for a long time.
The Centre gave the Stage-I clearance to the PSU major for 57.20 hectares in December 2019 with 28 conditions, including fines and action against responsible officers violating the Forest Conservation Act.
Accordingly, the Assam Forest Department in May slapped a penalty of Rs 43.24 crore on CIL for carrying out illegal mining activity inside the forest for 16 years since 2003.
On June 4, the Gauhati High Court issued notices to the centre, state, CIL and other stakeholders after filing a suo motu case against coal mining inside Dehing Patkai, the largest rainforest of Northeast.
Three more PILs were filed by advocates, a mountaineer and a Guwahati resident in the high court, which fixed September 1 for the next hearing of the case.
On July 18, the Assam government ordered an inquiry by a retired justice of Gauhati High Court, Brajendra Prasad Kataki, into allegations of coal mining in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary since 2003.