Greenpeace India, the non- governmental organisation (NGO) known for its environmental activism, has cautioned prospective bidders of the coal block auctions of lengthy project delays due to protests and legal action.
Saying studies had proved 39 of the 101 coal blocks up for bidding were located in ecologically sensitive areas, it urged the government to reconsider their auction.
This suggestion comes ahead of the next round of auctions on August 11-17.
Greenpeace has analysed the geographic information system to conclude the 39 blocks occupy forest area of over 10,500 hectares
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These blocks are likely to face significant delays in securing clearances, apart from the likelihood of legal challenges and opposition from affected communities.
Greenpeace activist Nandikesh Sivalingam in a statement said, "By continuing to put good quality forests up for mining, the government is being short-sighted. This will harm the environment, and will also mean higher risks for project developers, investors and shareholders, as it will lead to more conflict, legal challenges and community opposition, as we saw in the case of the Mahan coal block in Singrauli. The government needs to keep important forest areas off limits to mining through a transparent, consultative and rigorous inviolate policy."
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Aditya-Birla group promoted Hindalco and Essar joint venture suffered due to Greenpeace protest in case of Mahan coal block, though Hindalco has started production in its Singrauli (Madhya Pradesh) plant by arranging other sources of fuel.
Greenpeace has pointed out that these blocks are spread in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal.
Of these, 35 blocks are in tiger, leopard or elephant habitat, and 20 are within 15 km of a protected area or identified wildlife corridor.
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The North Karanpura coalfield in Jharkhand, spread over 8,575 hectares and containing 12 different coal blocks, is the largest among the 46 blocks analysed by Greenpeace. The 6,142 hectare Hasdeo Arand block in Chhattisgarh came next followed by Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh and Talcher in Odisha.
The release also said a response from the environment ministry to a question under the Right to Information Act, which revealed the forest area slated to be inviolate, or closed to mining, had shrunk alarmingly in the past six years. Figures provided by the environment ministry suggest the number of no-go areas has been reduced from the original 222 to a mere 24.
Greenpeace added the total inviolate area had come down to 94,421 hectares, which is only 7.86 per cent of the 1,200,576 hectares earmarked for mining.
The RTI response lists 32 mining operations in the inviolate coal blocks as on December 5, 2014. It also shows nine of 17 coal blocks in the Singareni coalfield in Telangana to have mining in progress. These include the Yellandu, Kothagudem, Ramagundam and Manuguru blocks.
Greenpeace argued that committees constituted to look into the classification of forests as no-go areas had always been under pressure from the coal ministry and mining industry. Greenpeace and several other NGOs have criticised the current policy for not being transparent or scientifically rigorous.
Greenpeace India urges the government to prioritize a free and fair identification of inviolate forest areas, ensuring them permanent protection from mining before any further auctions. Coal blocks should only be auctioned after resolving pending legal challenges and complaints regarding the environment and people's rights.