Biodiversity conservation society, Aaranyak has raised its concern over the reports on approval being granted for open cast coal mining in Saleki Proposed Reserved Forest within Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.

The premier NGO working in the field of research and conservation of biodiversity and environment protection in Northeast India stated that the “open cast coal mining should be done away with in phased manner in eastern Assam”.

Aaranyak said alternative livelihood opportunities should be created for the “local people whose livelihood is dependent upon the on-going legal coal mining”.

The NGO, however, acknowledged the need for extraction of coal for the nation’s development.

However it urged user agencies and Ministry of Mining to explore other environment friendly technologies for future extraction of coal without affecting biodiversity rich areas.

“We are also of the view that non-renewable energy options like solar power should be widely promoted to reduce dependence on coal-fired power in the long run in the NE region,” it said.

Aaranyak said while user agency like coal companies pay compensation to the forest department for the forest areas taken on lease for extraction of coal and the fund goes to CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority).

But “no health insurance support is provided to local people living in areas surrounding coal mining sites” even though impact of coal mining affects their health to a great extent, said Aaranyak in a statement.

Aaranyak has demanded that the government and user agency should take the responsibility of providing health insurance cover for people residing within 10 km radius of such coal mining sites.

The NGO also urged the government to undertake an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of on-going coal mining activities including people’s health and livelihood.

“Till the EIA report is finalised and follow up remedial measures are initiated; no fresh open cast coal mining project should be considered,” Aaranyak stated.

Aaranyak also raised concern over the proposed drilling by Oil India Limited (OIL) in Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Referring to a press statement issued by OIL on May 19, 2020, Aaranyak mentioned that the OIL proposes to use a new technology named as ‘Extended Reach Drill’ or ERD for exploring hydrocarbon reserves beneath the ground in Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

OIL further claimed that drilling will take place at an average distance of more than 1.5 km from the Park boundary with a target depth of 3.5-4 km below the surface.

In this regard, Aaranyak as an environment conservation organisation demanded explanations to various points with supporting documentary evidences:

Aaranyak has asked OIL whether it has already used the ERD technology in any other place in Assam.

If the company has used the technology, the NGO has demanded that the documentary evidence of the use of this technology by the oil company and the related studies on the environment should be produced by the agency in public domain.

“We are concerned about the environmental impact of the of drilling using ERD technology, which to the best of our knowledge, has not yet tested in the eastern Assam landscape and its sensitive ecosystems which is likely to be threatened by its application,” the NGO said.

“The EIA report of December 2018 by ERM India Pvt. Ltd. mentions about pollution sources and expresses concerns on the possibility of noise pollution to be a reason for fauna, particularly birds moving away from the project site temporarily,” it further said.

It also said from the existing EIA report it is not clear what would be the radius of the impact in the project site and it demanded a proper investigation from OIL in this matter.

The NGO also expressed concern over discharge of pollutants from oil drilling into a nearby natural drainage channel as per Schedule I of the “Standards for Emission or Discharge of Environmental Pollutants from Oil Drilling and Gas Extraction Industry” of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Aaranyak has raised its concern in this regard considering the presence of several nearby ecologically significant sites such as Dibru Saikhowa National Park as well as nearby Maguri- Motapong wetland.

Aaranyak said the entire ecosystem of Dibru Saikhowa as well as Maguri-Motapong is wetland dependent and some of the globally threatened species found in the area are known to be sensitive to the increase of even minor amounts of pollution as well as physical disturbance.

“Hence, the standard guidelines may need to be reassessed and reviewed prior to the discharge of any pollutant in the area,” Aaranyak said.

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