Coal India arm North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) has said its mining operations in Tikak Open Cast Project (OCP), under Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest in Assam's Digboi, is currently on hold and awaiting final approval from the Centre.
The miner said it is in the process of complying with stipulations and conditions laid down by the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change for mining coal in Tikak OCP.
The operations in the project have been suspended from October 2019 on the directive of the Assam forest department, and it is "awaiting the stage-II clearance" from the Centre, a statement issued by the NEC said on Tuesday.
"Green signal from the NBWL and forest clearance for the project are yet to be received for starting coal mining activity in Tikak OCP," it said.
The Assam-based coal producing unit of the Maharatna PSU also needs to submit a feasibility report for exploring underground mining, and it is yet to submit the same for consideration of the Centre.
The NEC had applied to the Assam government for forest clearance in 2003, and subsequently, another application was made in 2012, the miner said, adding that the in-principle approval, was granted by the Centre with 28 conditions.
One of the conditions for approval was obtaining clearance from NBWL.
"The final clearance, which is stage-II, for this project, will be granted by the Union ministry after fulfilment of certain conditions by the project proponent, NEC, and only then extraction of coal can be done," an official said.
The Assam forest department had, in last month, slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on PSU major Coal India Ltd for carrying out "illegal mining" inside the reserve forest for 16 years from 2003.
In a meeting in April, 2020, it was decided that a site specific mine reclamation plan in consultation with the Assam government has to be submitted by the NEC for around 57 hectares of forest area, broken up due to mining.
Post nationalisation of coal mines in 1973, the collieries operating in Assam were transferred to CIL for a lease period of 30 years till April 2003 and at that time, the concept of mandatory clearance prior to coal mining was not in place. It only came into effect after notification of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the NEC said.
The opposition Congress, All Assam Students' Union (AASU), conservationists, activists and students have threatened to stage protests, if coal mining is allowed in areas bordering Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, dubbed as Amazon of the East.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed Environment Minister Parimal Suklabaidya to visit the sanctuary and conduct a field survey on the backdrop of an outrage against coal mining inside the forest.
"The distance of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Project is 9.19 km from the mining site and the Gola-Powai elephant corridor is located at a distance of more than 10 km," the miner said.
The company claimed that it has contributed to the growth of the local economy from Margherita to Jagun and has been a major employment generator in the region.
"Of the 1,200 employees, directly employed in NEC, a large section belongs to Assam. This apart, around 3,000 people are indirectly dependent on the employment opportunities provided by coal mining of NEC," the statement said.
With a turnover of Rs 405 crore annually, the NEC contributes more than Rs 100 crore to the government exchequer through District Mineral Fund Royalty and a slew of other taxes.(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)