Despite there being certain voices including of three state governments against the auction of some coal blocks for commercial mining, the Centre has gone ahead with the process. The two-layer auction will be completed by July. The Prime Minister in a speech on June 18 said that environmental concerns would be fully taken care of. However, a close scrutiny of the situation raises several questions.
The list of total 41 coal blocks up for auction includes 14 which had been classified as 'no-go' in 2010 because of their dense forest cover and environmental value. The study was not approved as a rule in 2012 on the pretext that classification on more scientific and objective parameters to identify inviolate forest areas would be done. The said classification on the six parameters which were suggested in 2012 is still pending. The government had asked the Forest Survey of India to suggest inviolate forest areas among coal blocks and the first list was submitted in August 2014. But the ministry of coal had been continuously seeking more and more coal blocks out of the inviolate list.
The exercise is being done without putting any information in the public domain which is contrary to the report of the committee that has suggested violate and inviolate classification. Still there are 14 coal blocks earlier classified as no-go and 8 coal blocks in the present auction list which have been classified as inviolate by the FSI.
A careful scrutiny of the 41 coal blocks state/coalfield-wise makes it apparent that no application of mind has been exercised while selecting the mines for the present auction as many coal blocks of the same state or coalfield with much less forested areas are available for allotment or auction.
There are 9 coal blocks of north Chhattisgarh which have been included in the auction list and 5 of them, namely Madanpur North, Morga 2, Morga South, Sayang and Fatehpur East have been classified as no-go and inviolate as well. The Chhattisgarh government has written to the Centre that all the coal blocks in environmentally sensitive areas like the catchment of Hasdeo and Mand river and proposed elephant reserve should be spared from the auction. The Hasdeo Arand coalfield is unique as all its coal blocks were classified as no-go, but there are at least 30 coal blocks in the nearby Mand Raigarh coalfield which were classified as go areas and could have been put up for auction instead.
Only three coal blocks have been listed for auction from Maharashtra which are Bander, Marki Mangli 2 and Takli-Jena-Bellora North and South. Among them, Bander is within 10km of the periphery of the famous Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve and on a tiger corridor whereas Marki Mangli 2 was classified as no-go in 2010 because of its dense forest cover. It is pertinent to note that in the Wardha coalfield of Maharashtra, a total 97 coal blocks were examined under the go/no-go study and only 16 were classified as no-go, leaving 81 blocks available for mining. In this situation, selecting Bander and Marki Mangli 2 for auction does not make any sense. The state has raised objections, citing the tiger corridor.
There are 9 coal blocks that have been included from Jharkhand for the auction and the state government has now challenged the Centre’s decision in the Supreme Court on various grounds including environment. At least 3 out of 9 coal blocks of North Karanpura coalfield of Jharkhand had been classified as no-go, namely Chakla, North Dhadhu and Gondulpara.
All these three have been put up for auction while 33 coal blocks of the same North Karanpura coalfield, classified as go areas, are available.
Out of the 10 coal blocks picked for the present auction, at least three are contentious: Marki Barka and Bandha had been classified as no-go areas and Marwatola as inviolate. The Marki Barka and Bandha blocks are in Singrauli coalfield of MP which had 19 coal blocks in the go areas, while the Marwatola block is in Sohagpur coalfield which had 68 coal blocks classified as go areas. The Marwatola coal block is situated in the tiger corridor of Achanakmar Tiger Reserve and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and it has been classified as inviolate as well.
Of the 10 blocks picked from Odisha, only one, Phuljhari East and West, had been classified as no-go. The has not red-flagged this auction yet as most of its no-go blocks have not been included.
In a nutshell, experts say it can be concluded that environmental concerns have not been addressed while finalising the list of the coal blocks. The PM said in his speech on more than one occasion that “I have been apprised by officials...” which indicates that there is a lack of prudent and objective advice in the entire process as he said all environmental aspects have been considered which, ecologists say, does not appear to be the case here.