Allocating forest land in Chhattisgarh for coal mining is cause for alarm; deforestation has risen significantly in recent decades

The recent approval of 1.7 lakh hectares of forest land in the Hasdeo Arand forest stretch in Chhattisgarh for open cast coal mining has raised concerns.

Sumit Chaturvedi April 01, 2019 20:53:20 IST
Allocating forest land in Chhattisgarh for coal mining is cause for alarm; deforestation has risen significantly in recent decades
  • The recent approval of 1.7 lakh hectares of forest land in the Hasdeo Arand forest stretch in Chhattisgarh for open cast coal mining has raised concerns.

  • The CLSR had expressed alarm over the trend of diversion of forest land for non-forest use.

  • The report reveals that the maximum diversion, 55 percent of the total forest land diverted, was recorded between 2001 and 2008.

The recent approval of 1.7 lakh hectares of forest land in the Hasdeo Arand forest stretch in Chhattisgarh for open cast coal mining (non-forest use) has raised concerns for the future of country’s forests. The government’s decision is indeed alarming, as the total forest land diverted for non-forest use in Chhattisgarh between 1980 and 2003 was 1.71 lakh hectares, out of which 67 percent was for mining, according to the report of Committee of Land Reforms and State Agrarian Relations (CLSR). This committee, appointed by the central government in 2008, submitted its report in 2009 to the Government of India.

The committee, in its report, had expressed alarm over the trend of diversion of forest land for non-forest use and the total amount of land which has been diverted thus far in the country as a whole. The committee noted that the situation has only worsened since 1976, when the central government issued new guidelines to states for consultation of the former before diversion of more than 10 hectares of forest land for non-forest use. As compared to the period between 1952 and 1976, when a total of 4.3 million hectares of land was diverted from the corpus of forest land, total land diverted between 1976 and 2008 stood at 7.76 million hectares. This is a 40 percent increase in the total forest land diverted per year, with an average of 0.18 million hectares diverted per year between 1952 and 1976, and 0.25 million hectares diverted per year between 1976 and 2008.

Allocating forest land in Chhattisgarh for coal mining is cause for alarm deforestation has risen significantly in recent decades

Representative image. Reuters

The report reveals that the maximum diversion, 55 percent of the total forest land diverted, was recorded between 2001 and 2008. Until 2008, as per the report, the maximum forest land diversion was in 1989, when 40,332 hectares were diverted for the Narmada Sagar project. An additional 49,668 hectares were diverted from non-forest land as well for this project. The report notes that the environmental cost of loss of forest for this diversion was estimated at Rs 30,923 crores.

It further suggested that institutional mechanisms to reduce the impact of forest diversion such as the rehabilitation and resettlement policy, the system of compensatory afforestation and the concept of Net Present Value have been “less than satisfactory”. It highlights as a case in point that only 7.38 percent of the target has been achieved for compensatory afforestation between 1980 and 2004. In this period, in a total of 10,807 cases, 9,54,839.026 hectares of forest land were diverted and total area stipulated for compensatory afforestation was 96,452.48 hectares. The actual target achieved was 71,224.85 hectares.

Up to 1994, the year till which the data was available to the committee, a total area of 2.53 lakh hectares had been degraded due to industrial and mining waste. A whopping 571.55 lakh hectares of land was degraded due to water erosion. The report notes that both these types of land degradation happen due to “felling of trees and industrial establishments which do not have any waste management.” It is concerning that the data after 1994 is not available for land degradation, especially in light of the fact that the forest land diversion for mining and other non-forest purpose has rapidly picked up pace since then.

In response to a question asked in the Rajya Sabha by Avinash Pande regarding diversion of forest lands in 2015, the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar informed that between 2000 and 2015, a total of 518 proposals were received by the MOEF for mining projects, including coal and iron ore mining. Out of these, a total of 423 proposals were approved, while 40 were rejected with an approval rate of 81.7 percent.

With such a high approval rate for diversion of forest lands, it becomes pertinent to highlight the observations made in the CLSR report regarding the quality of clearances. It says that “forest clearances” given by the MOEF indicate a “neo-liberal agenda,” creating critical pressure on forest land. Unhappy with the Environmental Impact Assessment provisions, the report terms them as “typically very lax” and unable to serve the “desired purpose of accountability”.

Private players get a huge share of allocations of forest lands. As per the information provided by the Minister of State for MOEF, Anil Madhav Dave, in response to a question asked in Rajya Sabha by Harivansh in 2016, the total area allocated to the private sector from the forest land utilised since 1980 was 1.2 million hectares. The maximum land diverted was in Madhya Pradesh, more than three times the land diverted in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra which were on second and third position respectively.

Interestingly, in 2009, the Hasdeo Arand forest area had been declared a no-go zone for mining, even though it irked the mining lobby. The CLSR report, which was submitted in 2009 to the central government and the PMO, too red-flagged the environmental and ecological problems with the forest land diversion. Along with this committee, a National Council of Land Reforms, to be chaired by the prime minister, was also appointed, which was supposed to go over the recommendations of the CLSR report. In almost a decade’s time since then, neither has the National Council for Land Reforms met even once, nor has the PMO made any progress in acting on the report, as reported earlier by this correspondent. Conversely, a decade after the submission of the CLSR report and the Hasdeo Arand patch being declared a ’no-go’ zone, its diversion for mining is perhaps the single largest diversion ever.

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