While coal ministry of India is under tremendous pressure to grant forest clearances to coal based power projects because they are promoted almost blindly by both central and state governments of India to meet the growing power needs, a recent analysis released by Greenpeace brings out the shocking facts of how coal mining largely threatens the tiger and elephant habitats of the country.

“Coal mining threatens over 1.1 million hectares of forest in 13 coalfields alone in Central India”, said that a GIS analysis released by Greenpeace titled “How Coal Mining is Trashing Tigerland”. Basing upon the results of the analysis, the internationally known organization engaged in advocacy campaign for environment and wildlife conservation has sought moratorium on forest clearance knowing well that the environment ministry continues to come under renewed pressure to fast track coal mining in forest areas to meet the growing energy needs.

The analysis, conducted by the Geoinformatics Lab at ATREE overlaid maps of the 13 coalfields with forest cover, Protected Area boundaries and the latest government data on tiger, elephant and leopard presence.

The analysis of data showed that almost all the coalfields overlap with endangered species habitat. Of the 1.1 million hectares of forest at risk, over 185,000 hectares are inhabited by tigers, over 270,000 hectares by leopards and over 55,000 hectares by elephants.

Stating that the blackout in Northern India is not a reason to fast track coal projects, Mr Ashish Fernandes, Coal Campaigner with Greenpeace said that “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.”

The report highlights the ecological destruction and massive loss India is facing from the huge expansion in coal mining. Forest corridors connecting eight tiger reserves including some of India’s finest such as Tadoba Andhari, Kanha and Bandhavgarh are at risk. These corridors have been identified by the government’s own Tiger Conservation Authority as essential for the long term survival of the species. Yet they also face the threat of coal mining from the Coal Ministry.

Greenpeace warned that this analysis is the tip of the iceberg as there are approximately 40 coalfields in the central Indian region, many of them in forest areas. Mr Fernandes said that “This study focuses on coal mining’s impact on mega fauna but the loss of forests is also going to hit the communities dependent on them hard. The era of cheap coal is over across India, from mine to power plant, communities are questioning coal as a source of electricity and asking for sustainable alternatives.”

After the Prime Minister’s Office and the Group of Ministers dismissed the ‘Go/No Go’ policy on coal mining in forest areas, the coal lobby has been demanding that the Ministry of Environment approve all coal mining proposals in forest areas. In April 2012, Environment Minister Ms Jayanthi Natarajan refuted the charge that her ministry was to blame for the power shortage faced by the country stating that the clearances granted by her Ministry for coal mining and coal-fired power plants in fact surpass the Indian government’s own targets till 2017.

Mr Biswajit Mohanty of Wildlife Society of Orissa and member of the National Board of Wildlife said that “The Ministry of Environment continues to clear coal based power projects and mines way beyond requirements, often over-riding the objections of its own officials and committees. We are asking for an immediate moratorium on all new forest clearances, until the criteria for determining forests off limits to mining are agreed on and implemented, with proper public consultation and input.”

The report also identifies key corporate players in each coalfield and warns that securing clearances for coal mining in forest areas is going to be more difficult as the level of scrutiny by civil society increases. As part of a public mobilization drive, Greenpeace is also collecting signatures on a petition to the Prime Minister demanding that he ensure the protection of forests in Central India from coal mining.

Courtesy: http://www.hotnhitnews.com

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