GUWAHATI, March 18 - The Coal India Ltd (CIL) has been carrying out open cast coal mining in the Tikok area under Digboi Forest Division of the State in gross violation of the Assam Forest Regulation, 1891 and the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980.
This was the observation of a team of the Shillong Regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which inspected the site recently. The report of the inspection team has been obtained by RTI activist Rohit Choudhury through an RTI application.
The CIL broke up 12.93 hectares (ha) of the Tikok area for coal mining up to 2003, 44.27 ha area between 2003 and 2012 and has proposed to break up an area of 41.39 ha after seeking prior approval.
According to the CIL officials, the lease of the CIL over which the area it has proposed to carry out mining falls, was granted to it for a 30-year-period from 1973. On the expiry of the lease, it was necessary on the part of the CIL to apply for the renewal of lease/diversion of the forest land to the Central Government. But, it has done so only in the year 2012. The proposal of 98.59 ha of the proposed land for diversion consists of the three sections mentioned above.
The proposed mining area comes under the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF) of the Lekhapani Range under Digboi Forest Division of the State.
The inspection report of the MoEFCC team said once the user agency (CIL) has applied for prior approval from the Central Government, it is implied that till such time the approval is obtained, no fresh mining should have been carried out. It is also a situation where the State Government should have stopped forthwith works of the user agency till such time prior approval of the Central Government is obtained.
The CIL officials told the inspection team that they have already broken up and are still carrying out coal mining in 57.20 hectares, out of the total project area (98.59 hectares), without obtaining the mandatory prior approval of the Central Government under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for the project.
The officers from the State Government including the Conservator of Forest , North Assam Circle, and the Divisional Forest Officer seem to be aware of the fact that the work was going on. Thus, coal mining was carried out by CIL in gross violation of the Assam Forest Regulation, 1891 and the FCA, 1980, said the inspection team in its report.
During the inspection, it was also observed that illegal coal mining was carried out at several places in the vicinity of the project area, which was done by local illegal miners and not by the CIL as informed by the accompanying CIL and forest officials.
Numerous stockpiles of coal and rat-hole mines were also noticed besides three huts (two persons inside them) which were dismantled by the accompanying staff. This area was near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.
Thereafter, the team inspected the CIL’s Tikok Coal Stock Yard adjacent to Ledo Railway station where a large quantity of coal from Tikok OCP inside Saleki PRF was stocked.