GUWAHATI, Jan 5 - The State Forest Department has directed its officers concerned to initiate action against Coal India Ltd (CIL) for continuing coal mining activities in the forest areas without obtaining the necessary clearance from the authorities concerned, thus violating the Assam Forest Rules (AFR), 1891 and Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980.
The CIL has been carrying out coal mining in the forest areas of Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF) and Tipong PRF under Digboi Division, Jeypore Reserved Forest (RF) under Dibrugarh Division and Dilli (Dilli) RF under Sivasagar Division without obtaining any approval/permission for mining under the relevant regulations etc.
This was revealed by the Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) and Nodal Officer (FC Act), Assam in letter No.FG.27/FCA/Illegal Coal Mining/2019 to the Divisional Forest Officers of Dibrugarh, Digboi and Sivasagar. The CCF-cum-Nodal Officer came to know about this development from letter Nos. NEC/GM/19/174/96 dated 22.8.2019 and NEC/GM/19/174/91 dated 16.8.2019 written by the General Manager of North Eastern Coalfields, Margherita. A copy of the CCF-cum-Nodal Officer’s letter was obtained by RTI-cum-environment activist Rohit Choudhury through an RTI application.
It may be mentioned here that the CCF-cum-Nodal Officer had opined that: even if the CIL started coal mining in forest areas before the FCA came into force, i.e., since October 25, 1980, it was legally incumbent on the CIL to take permission under the AFR, which came into force on 1.4.1892. But he claimed it did not do so. Hence, the CIL has committed offence under Sections 24 and 25 of the AFR, punishable under the aforesaid sections, besides confiscation of vehicles, tools, equipment, etc. under Section 49(4) thereof.
Further, after enactment of the FCA, it was obligatory for the CIL to obtain approval from the Central Government for coal mining under the FCA. This has been reiterated by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in its Handbook on Forest Clearance (2019 edition) in Chapter-1 under Para 1.13, which deals with ‘De-reservation orders made before 25.10.1980,’ the CCF-cum-Nodal Officer said.
Moreover, he said, “It has also come to the notice of this office that CIL is still carrying out mining of coal in Tipok Open Cast Project (57.20 hectares) in Saleki PRF in Digboi Division vide their aforesaid letters and DFO, Digboi Division’s letter No. A/Fo-I/Illegalities/CIL/2019/1310-13 dated 8.8.2019.”
“It may be mentioned that CIL has applied for forest clearance (prior approval of the Central Government) for this project in forest area on 27.8.2012 for which the Central Government has not yet granted even the “In-Principle Approval” (Stage-I approval). Therefore, CIL was categorically directed to stop forthwith illegal coal mining in the aforesaid forest area vide this office letter No. FG.27/FCA/Illegal Coal Mining/2019 dated 16.7.2019; but CIL has not complied with the directive,” he said.
Thus, coal mining was carried out in the forest areas by CIL by contravening the forest laws, namely the AFR and FCA. It is therefore administratively imperative as well as legally incumbent upon the competent forest officers to take appropriate action, said the CCF-cum-Nodal Officer.