The coal ministry has issued a notification on its intention to acquire 712.072 hectares (ha) and all rights over the land for mining coal in Madanpur South coal block in Korba district of Chhattisgarh, whose government has been considering declaring the rich forest area an elephant reserve.
According to the notification published on December 24, 489.274 ha is protected forest land and 159.327 comprises revenue and other forest land.
The intention to acquire the land has been notified under provisions of the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act. The law says that if the central government is satisfied that coal is obtainable from a tract of land, it can give notice of its intention to acquire it.
But diversion of the forest land for non-forest use hasn’t taken place yet because the Chhattisgarh government was considering declaring it an elephant reserve.
“We have not started the process of diversion of forest land. I cannot say anything on whether or when it will be diverted. The issue of extending the elephant reserve is still under consideration,” said Rakesh Chaturvedi, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) in Chhattisgarh
“Since the elephant reserve hasn’t been notified yet commenting on its boundaries will be premature. The government will take a call,” said PVN Rao, PCCF (wildlife) in Chhattisgarh.
Environmental activists and legal researchers have raised several concerns with the intention to acquire large biodiversity rich forest land located in the Hasdeo Arand region– one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forests in central India spanning 170,000 ha which has 22 coal blocks underneath.
“The central government has issued a notification to acquire the same forest land for which a process for diversion is pending, especially because the state government is looking to declare the area as an elephant reserve and the local Gram Sabhas have refused to grant consent,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research think tank.
“This raises a serious legal question on the validity of the notification issued under the Coal Bearing Areas Act, 1957 which is seeking to acquire government forest land. But more importantly, it highlights the failure of cooperative federalism as both the state and central governments appear to have visualized a different future for the Hasdeo Arand region where the Madanpur South coal block is located,” Kohli said.
Alok Shukla, convenor of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a non-government organisation, said the government should consult the local gram sabha (village council).
“I think acquiring forest land like this completely goes against the provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. Recently four coal blocks in the Hasdeo region were saved from being auctioned after state government said they have rich, dense forest cover. This block is also in Hasdeo Arand and the catchment of Hasdeo river is located here so why is it being acquired for mining? First there should be detailed consultation with people of the region and state government should oppose this move by the Centre,” he said
Asked whether the Centre had considered the impact of mining in an elephant habitat and rich forest area, a senior coal ministry official said on condition of anonymity : “The queries are premature. The notification talks merely of intention to acquire. The objective is precisely to find out the intricacies based on which a decision will be made.”