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Prep Before Cheetahs Become Free Ranging In Kuno National Park

  When another male cheetah, Obaan,joined the two rock stars – Freddie and Elton -- in yet another bigger enclosure of Kuno national park on November 18, only five female cheetahs remained in smaller bomas in the park where they were released on September 17. Like the three males, the five female spotted cats will also be released soon in larger bomas to run and chase their prey to kill. India’s  wildlife authorities accompanied by the experts from the cheetah conservation fund (CCF) from Namibia   have been taking utmost care and caution  before the  cheetahs in Kuno are ultimately made “free -ranging” meaning released in open to move around the entire length and breadth of the park. “Free ranging cheetahs and their monitoring  will be like a grand finale of the Project Cheetah to be played in Kuno for a longer  period in the coming years'", said a senior official of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFC&C).  Apprehensions, Concerns  on Chee

Why India Should Rethink Over Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest

 

Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest
 
Promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November 2021 seem to contradict actions taken by his government back home. Amidst protest and litigation, millions of trees are proposed to be axed for the projects including coal, diamond mining   and river linking projects in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. After protests against Ken Betwa River linking project threatening the very existence of a tiger reserve  and   voices against diamond mining in Madhya Pradesh, indigenous people in Hansdeo Arand, one of the richest bio-diverse Indian forests located in Chattisgarh, hold protests to save their “home”- a pristine virgin Sal forest. An estimated four and half lakh trees are expected to be axed to make way for coal mining in the jungle, an important wildlife corridor which is also the origin of the river Hansdeo. All this is happening when Climate Change has become a reality. 

The Environmental Warning India Should Have Not Ignored


Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest

For millennia, Hasdeo is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense virgin forests in central India amd its jungles are spread over 170,000 hectares and has 23 coal blocks underneath it representing one of the largest coal reserves in India with estimated deposits of 5.18 billion tonnes of coal. Hasdeo forests also connect the Achanakmar-Kanha Tiger Landscape. The corridor is used by  iconic species like elephants and tigers, a report of  the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) said. The  same WII  study  in 2010  before the coal mining in Hasdeo using camera traps and sign -surveys recorded over 25 species of mammals including 9 Schedule-1 species (endangered animals accorded highest protection in India’s forest conservation laws). A conservative estimate of 40-50 elephants use different parts of Hasdeo Arand region with abnormally sharp levels of human-elephant conflict – itself a consequence of fragmentation of elephant habitat in other areas. Mitigation of any further disruption to elephant habitat would be “impossible”.The same study recommended the forests to be declared a “ no go” zone  . But in 2013, the first coal block was allocated with a pretext that it was on the fringes of Hasdeo Arand.  


There was a rider also- that no further mining will be allowed. India’s super rich Goutam Adani was the beneficiary. Though the coal mining sector in India is primarily state-owned, through the Coal India, this became the first privatized, commercial coal deal of its kind. It happened like this- in 2012, the government of India allotted PEKB or Parsa East Kente Basan coal block  to Rajasthan government’s power generation utility, the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd, or RRVUNL  which in turn  made Adani group the mine developer and operator (MDO).Villagers   call it  “ owner ship”  of Adani.  The mining here was    allowed in two phases, the first phase was for 15 years period till 2028 for 140 million tonnes of coal. After the first phase, the MDO was also responsible for afforestation and other ground work to restore area. Interestingly the second phase permission was also given, about 7years in advance. This was scheduled to be issued after 2028 !! 


Activists allege that 2.5 lakh trees would be felled in the PEKB second phase mining project. Mining permits were also issued for Parsa coal block which would require cutting of additional 2 lakh trees. All this has happened in violation of norms, Alok Shukla, Social Activist and member of Convenor collective of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan said.  “This would not stop here, more and more mines are going to be opened for Adani’s”, he said. Now the question is, the villagers sitting on dharna in Hasdeo Arand said, whether this is against the spirit of PM’s declaration in Cop26 in Glasgow? “When India promised to bring down its coal consumption by 50 % replacing it with renewable sources of energy. Then why open more coal mines marauding the forests of Hasdeo  Arand.  

Questionable Forest Cover 

Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest

India has highlighted many times it wants to bring a third of its land area under forest cover, which can help absorb carbon. But it has not given a timescale for this - and progress has been patchy, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports. “Although there have been replanting initiatives in the southern parts of India, the north-eastern region has lost forest cover recently”, the report said. And India plans to plant enough trees by 2030 to absorb an additional 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, it further said. Global Forest Watch (GFW)  - a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Google, the United States Geological Survey and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - estimates India lost 18% of its primary forests and 5% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2020.  


The tree loss in Hasdeo Arand, Ken Betwa River Linking Project and the proposed diamond mining would further aggravate the situation. Over 23 lakh trees are likely to be felled in the river linking project in Panna National park where the project would take shape. This would also cost best of the tiger habitat in  the national park.  An estimated additional 2.5 lakh trees  are proposed to be axed in a diamond  mining project in Buxwah , a village in Chattarpur district bordering Panna. This project would affect a tiger corridor in  Panna tiger landscape.   India’s forest cover increase is also riddled in controversy. 


The government data indicates a 5.2% increase in forest cover between 2001 and 2019. The GFW report includes only vegetation taller than 5m (16ft) whereas India's official figures are based on tree density in a given area of land. Also in 2015, India promised to provide 40% of all electric power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. The prime minister has now increased this figure to 50%. Generation capacity from these sources stands at around 39% as of September this year, according to India's official statistics. But the actual amount generated in 2020 was lower at around 20%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).


The Road Ahead

Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest

In this energy hungry nation, progress often comes with a price. With a population of more than 1.3billion, India's energy needs are set to rise more than any other nation in the next twenty years, according to the International Energy Agency. And as the West urges India to reduce its carbon emissions, the focus remains on its reliance on coal, one of the dirtiest of fuels which is responsible for more than 70% of India's energy production. As many as four million people are employed directly and indirectly in India's coal industry, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution. Majority of the coal reserves lie in the east - the so-called coal belt - in the backward states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha- all tribal dominating states . 


In these areas, coal also powers the economy. It's the lifeline of the local communities, some of them are  India's poorest. It is indeed difficult for India to phase out the coal production and its use. India needs to chalk out a concrete plan how it would “phase down” rather than “phase out” the use of coal the coal based energy requirement, as promised by the Union minister for forest Environment and climate change Bhupender Yadav in Glasgow. But with millions of people dependent on the coal sector, National Foundation for India , says India needs a transition plan. And the absence of a clear “phase down” timeline means it leaves the text open to interpretation. 

Banner Image: Deepak Patel,Bilaspur  

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