Assam Coal Mining | Habitat Loss
Nestled at the foot of the Patkai hill, lies the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary(Jeypore Rainforest). Located in the Tinsukia and Dibrugarh district of Assam, the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is a rainforest that covers an area of 111.19 sq km. Dehing Patkai, the largest stretch of lowland rainforest was declared as Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve under the Project Elephant.
Known as The Amazon of the East, it’s the only patch of virgin rainforest in Assam. Dehing Patkai is a deciduous rainforest interspergere with semi-evergreen and lush green flora. This mesmerizing four-layered rainforest is a mélange of trees laden with exotic species of orchids and bromeliads. About 108 species of Orchids have been found in the region, some of which are very rare.
Dehing Patkai is blessed with rich bio-diversity. The rich profusion of wildlife is evident by the fact that, this rainforest contains 47 mammal species, including the rare Chinese Pangolin, Flying fox, Wild pig, Sambar, Barking Deer, Gaur, Serow and Malayan giant squirrels. It’s the only sanctuary in India that’s home to seven different species of Wild cats- Tiger, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Golden Cat, Jungle Cat and Marbled Cat. The Assamese Macaque, a primate found in the forest, is in the red list of Near Threatened Species.
47 reptile species including Rock Python, King Cobra, Asian leaf Turtle and Monitor Lizaed. 310 butterfly species thrive in this beautiful tropical vegetation. The forest also includes 293 bird species and is one of the last strongholds of the endangered White-winged Duck, Assam’s State Bird. Its home to 4 of the 5 species of Globally threatened Hornbill.
Dehing Patkai has a rich cultural heritage and is home to some of the ethnic Tribal communities including Indigenous Assamese communities : Ahom, Singpho, Tai, Phake, Moran, Khamyang, Khampti, Nocte, Chutia, Kaibarta, Motok, Burmese, and Nepali.
Dehing Patkai region has been under constant threat due to illegal mining activities, poaching, exploitation of animal skins, medicinal plants and timber for the last 16 years. The region is also being threatened by high polluting industries, such as Coal mines, Oil refineries and Gas drilling.
Amidst the nationwide lockdown, the National Board of Wildlife, chaired by the Prime Minister and vice chaired by the Environment Minister has recommended coal mining in a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam. This gives the green signal to a proposal recommending usage of 98.59 hectares of land belonging to the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, a proposed reserve forest, for extraction of coal by Coal India Limited.
The North Eastern Coalfields have been mining the area since 1973. In 1973, a 30 year mining lease was granted to Coal India Ltd over an area of 4 sq km in the Saleki area of Dehing Patkai. The lease expired in 2003, but CIL continued its illegal mining. Nine years later, CIL in 2012 applied to the MoEFCC for lease renewal. All this while, coal mining continued illegally in the area.
The Assam Forest department had slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on PSU major Coal India Ltd for carrying out "illegal mining" inside a reserve forest for 16 years from 2003, in the first week of May,2020. The forest department has also filed an FIR at the Sub-Divisional Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Margherita in Tinsukia district against officials responsible for the alleged illegal activity in around 73 hectares of land inside the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve forest between 2003 and 2019.
The Stage-I clearance was given to CIL for 57.20 hectares in December 2019 with 28 conditions, including payment of fine and action against officers responsible for violating the Forest Conservation Act. Thus, making the Illegal mining by CIL Legal.
In a meeting on April 7,2020, Mr. R. Sukumar, Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden stated that 57.20 ha of hilly forestland had already been broken up by the North Eastern Coalfield and the remaining 41.39 ha was unbroken. He had recommended a “cautious approach” for preserving the “basic integrity of this forested hill slope”.
However, in an inexplicable turnaround of the Ministry’s own stance, the Standing Committee of the NBWL “recommended for approval” CIL’s Tikok Open Cast Project. The very project that has grossly violated the law of the land. Thus, effectively curtailing the illegal mining activities of Coal India Ltd. of the past 30 years and handing over an even greater land area for exploitation to Coal India Ltd.