NEW DELHI, Nov 22 - The Centre on Friday admitted to the existence of illegal coal mining in the forest areas of the Digboi Division, even as it claimed that the involvement of Forest department officials in the coal syndicate has not been reported.
“The Government of Assam informed that it is aware of illegal coal mining in forest areas of Digboi Division, including Namphai Reserve Forest (RF), Tinkapani RF, Tipong RF, Tirap RF, Lekhpani RF and Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF). Connivance of Forest officials in illegal coal mining has not been reported. However, action has been initiated against certain forest officials of Digboi Division for dereliction of duty,” said Minister of State for Environment and Forest and Climate Change, Babul Supriyo, in a Lok Sabha reply to a question by Pradyut Bordoloi.
The Government of Assam has informed that the Rat Holes, which had been dug, were filled up and planting of seedlings was carried out.
According to information received from the Assam Government, the State Forest department conducts field inspection from time to time to check all kinds of illegalities in forest areas, including illegal coal mining, and the reports are submitted to the authorities concerned and the State government for requisite action. Follow-up measures are taken up by the Assam Forest department to prevent illegal coal mining: including seizure of coal, vehicles and machineries and apprehending offenders indulging in illegal coal mining, deployment of armed personnel of the Assam Forest Protection Force in the affected forest divisions and coordinated efforts involving the line departments of the government/concerned agencies such as police, civil administration are being made.
The areas where illegal coal mining was detected by forest officials in the recent past during combing operations included Tirap and Tipong, he informed.
As reported, Congress MP Bordoloi had levelled serious allegations about illegal coal mining in Digboi and the adjoining forest ranges while the State machineries, he said, looked the other way. He had challenged the State government to have the forest areas surveyed by a third party.
According to information, the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Digboi and the Dibrugarh Forest Division, which is classified as 'Assam Valley Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest' was notified on June 13, 2004. It is home to faunal species like elephant, tiger, leopard, lesser cats, hoolock gibbon, slow loris, Chinese pangolin, reptiles, beetles, butterflies, moths, hornbill, etc. The floral species present in the region include Hollong, Mekai, Nahar, Keteki, Tagar, Champa, Ajar tree, orchids, ferns, etc.
There are 15 Reserve Forests (RF) and six PRFs in the Digboi Division. On June 13, 2004, the Government of Assam had declared 111.9 sq km of forest area as the ‘Dehing Patkai Sanctuary’ of which two-thirds fall in the Digboi Division and one-third area falls in the Dibrugarh Division.
The details of RF/PRF in Digboi Forest Division include: Upper Dehing Reserve Forest (East Block), Digboi Reserve Forest (East Block), Tirap Reserve Forest, Namphai Reserve Forest, Tipong Reserve Forest, Lekhapani Reserve Forest, Paharpur Reserve Forest, Upper Dehing Reserve Forest (West Block), Bogapani Reserve Forest, Digboi Reserve Forest, Dirok Reserve Forest, Tinkopani Reserve Forest, Kotha Reserve Forest, Makumpani Reserve Forest to Dirak Reserve Forest.