Govt Gives 30-Year Environment Clearance to Coal Mine Which was Flooded in September

Activists and residents of the surrounding villages had pointed several times to the acute harm caused by the flooding.

New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has sanctioned a 30-year environment clearance extension to the Dipka coal mine in Chhattisgarh. Owned by Coal India Limited, the mine had been submerged in a flood five months ago.

The extension was recommended by the environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee in its January 24 meeting. The minutes of the meeting have now been uploaded on the ministry’s website.

“The EAC, after detailed deliberations duly considering observations of the Ministry’s Regional Office in their letter dated 27th November, 2019, recommended for continuance of the environmental clearance dated 20th March, 2019 for a period of 30 years or life of the mine, whichever is earlier, subject to the terms and conditions…,” read the minutes. 

Last March, Dipka, which has a capacity of 25 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) and is spread over 1,999 hectares, was given a one-year environmental clearance which was to expire on March 20 this year.

One of Coal India’s largest opencast mines had been in the news when the Lilanagar river inundated it during the monsoons in September.

Also read: Environmental Exemptions Now Allow for Piecemeal Expansions of Coal Mines

According to Hindustan Times, local environmentalists like Bipasha Paul, of the Raipur-based Jan Abhivyakti, who had visited the site after the floods, found that the river had been polluted by fly ash from the mine.

The paper quoted Delhi University assistant professor of geology, Shashank Shekhar, who said that operating an opencast coal mine so close to a river had created a recipe for more such accidents and pollution.

A letter was also written by villagers living near the mine as recently as January 21. Hindustan Times reported that in it, villagers had pleaded for the mine to be shut down, because it violated the the very air and water safeguards set for it.

The minutes of the January meeting contain no references to the flooding of the Dipka mine. Expert appraisal committee chairman Navin Chandra told Hindustan Times that he did not have details of the mine or the flooding. He said that he therefore could not comment on why it has been granted environmental clearance for 30 years.

A researcher at Centre for Policy Research, Kanchi Kohli, noted, “The minutes [of the EAC meeting] does not record any mention of the flooding of the Lilagar river fewer than six months ago, which had severely impacted the villages and farmlands downstream. Such decisions are likely to discourage environmental compliance as illegalities have no bearing on project approvals”.

A Coal India Limited official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the newspaper, said the Dipka mine was functioning a mere two days after the flooding. “Its output now is about 1.10 lakh tonnes per day. A non-seasonal local river had flooded on September 29 but we immediately conducted dewatering and the mine became functional gradually.”

There was no mention of concerns raised by villagers in the meeting minutes.

The ten ‘conditions’ stipulated by EAC for extension of clearance had only two mentions of villages.

One was that the project leader should follow guidelines on mitigation measures for impact of mining activities on habitations in the mine lease area and its surroundings.

Secondly, the CIL was told that illumination and sounds at night at the project site had to respect both the human and animal population.

“Consequent sleeping disorders and stress may affect the health in the villages located close to mining operations. Habitations have a right to darkness and minimal noise levels at night. PPs (project proponents) must ensure that the biological clock of the villages is not disturbed; by orienting the floodlights/ masks away from the villagers and keeping the noise levels well within the prescribed limits for day light/night hours,” read the minutes.