Coal mining is destroying our forests: Greenpeace

A new Greenpeace India campaign is gearing up to take on the Indian coal industry, coal ministry and even the Prime Minister. The environmental action group is determined to create awareness about how coal mining in Central India destroys forests, forest dependent communities, endangered tigers and other wildlife. Of course, it also causes severe environmental damage like air and water pollution and increases carbon emissions. The website www.junglistan.org/home created by Greenpeace on 19th July 2012, asking people to sign a petition asking the PM to stop coal mining in forest areas, has already got more than 32,000 signatures from web users.

Greenpeace plans to deliver this petition to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in October at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that India is hosting in Hyderabad. Signed by 150 government leaders, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dedicated to promoting sustainable development and conserving bio-diversity. The PM is a guest speaker at the international event and Greenpeace feels that this is the ideal platform to address this important issue of protecting our last remaining forests.

Most of India’s coal is mined in the Central Indian region spanning Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and parts of Odisha and eastern Maharashtra. This same mining belt is also India’s largest contiguous tiger landscape and coal fields here are in proximity to at least 10 Tiger Reserves. Proposed coal mining threatens over one million hectares of forest in just 13 coalfields in Central India, according to a recent GIS analysis. Vital corridors linking the tiger reserves of Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Achanakmarh, Sanjay-Dubri, Palamau, Satkosia and Tadoba-Andhari also come under threat. Furthermore, 35 percent of India’s 1,700 tigers live in Central India and we will see a reduction in this number if coal mining continues unabated.

Recently, the government recommended that forests in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh, be cleared for mining, even though several earlier government bodies had denied clearance based on the ecological value of the area. This sets a dangerous precedent where forests are blindly sacrificed for coal mining. Tribal communities who live in the forests and depend on it for their livelihood are forced to leave. Coal companies sometimes compensate them or offer a handful of jobs at the coal mines but these are meager offerings when they are losing their homes, livelihood and way of life.

When 40 percent of Indians still have no access to electricity, is more coal mining really the answer? The recent blackout in North and North-Eastern India, plunging 600 million people in darkness should urge the government to change their outlook on India’s energy mix. While about 70 % of India’s electricity is generated from coal the huge potential of solar and wind energy is neglected, even as the cost of wind energy is now lower than coal in some areas.

As AshishFernandes, Coal Campaigner, Greenpeace India says, “The black-out is a wake-up call for the government to revisit its unsustainable energy policy. We need to diversify our power generation sources as well as our distribution model – renewable energy and energy efficiency can no longer be given step motherly treatment. Locking the country into a coal intense pathway is going to be disastrous for the country, and will not guarantee us power.”

Another side to this issue is corruption. The leaked CAG report in March indicated that coal blocks allocated without auction between 2004 and 2009, when the PM was in charge of the coal ministry, led to undue benefits of Rs 10.67 lakh crore to private and public sector companies. This has been called the mother of all scams in India. Significantly, the coal lobby citing a shortage in coal reserveshas been demanding that the Ministry of Environment approve all coal mining proposals in forest areas. However, in April 2012, Environment Minister JayanthiNatarajan stated that clearances granted by her Ministry for coal mining and coal-fired power plants surpass the Indian government’s own targets till 2017. Her statement clearly indicates that vested interests want more forests under their control quickly, even before tapping the coal already available in their mines. So what we are left with is rampant corruption and the coal lobby vying for more forest areas, even as the government has no clear policy to deem important forest areas closed to mining.

Greenpeace is demanding an immediate moratorium on forest clearances for coal mining and the exclusion ofall wildlife/forest corridors, areas of high livelihood dependence and forests inhabited by endangered species from existing coalfields. Going forward no forest clearancesshould be granted without both the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Tribal Affairs first ensuring that the Forest Rights Act is properly implemented. The process for determining criteriaof areas that will be kept off limits to mining and power plants must also be open for public input. The Greenpeace campaign addresses all these issues while advocating a clean solution. Renewable energy like solar and wind can gradually substitute coal and also help resolve India’s energy deficit. To support this campaign and help save our forests and wildlife, visit www.junglistan.org/home.

 

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