The decision of the Centre to allow open cast coal mining in Saleki proposed Reserved Forest within Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve has now drawn global attention.

The global International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberalisation headquartered at Philippines (IPMSDL) has joined different organizations in denouncing the approval of India’s environment agencies for coal mining in rainforests and protected forest reserves in Assam amid the countrywide lockdown.

IPMSDL is a global network of grassroots based indigenous peoples organisation, indigenous people’s rights activists and advocates in different parts of the world.

In a statement the IPMSDL said that like thieves in the night, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and 10 Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) approved the use of almost 100 hectares of land of the Dehing (or Dihing) Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam for opencast coal mining of Coal India Limited (CIL).

According to reports, CIL has recently been charged for illegal mining for operating inside the reserve without obtaining any clearance certificate.

Beverly Longid, global coordinator IPMSDL in the statement said that in a video conference on April 7, the NBWL, FAC and EAC officials swiftly recommended mining, industrial and infrastructure projects to the central government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) citing the need for “seamless economic growth”.

Condemning the approval, IPMSDL said standard processes including free prior and informed consent and consultations with affected communities, submission of evidence reports and site assessments —did not take place due to lockdown.

“Dehing Patkai, lying in Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, is considered as the Amazon of the East covering a large area of thick tropical rainforests in Assam.

“Its delicate ecosystem has been declared as a protected elephant reserve, and also houses a variety of wild flora and fauna including the threatened Asia leaf turtle and king cobra species. Assam’s state bird (white winged wood duck), state flower (fox tail orchid) and state tree (hollong) can only be found in Dehing Patkai,” IPMSDL further said.

The Dehing Patkai forest region is a cultural hub with dozens of different ethnic groups traditionally living in coexistence with the forest and using its resources.

The IPMSDL called for the immediate stop of all plunderus projects affecting forest reserves, especially indigenous communities.

“We call on the government of India, Assam State government and all companies to stop bypassing the Free, Prior and Informed Consent process for any project.

“While millions are threatened by hunger and death due to the pandemic, we assert that all efforts must be directed in ensuring the need to safeguard the medical and economic welfare of the majority and not the profit-interest by the few.

“We call on everyone to stand up to defend the right to self-determination and the rich cultural heritage of Tai ethnic communities, Tibeto Burmese ethnic communities, Tea tribe communities and all other indigenous Assamese peoples’ affected by the coal mining project,” the statement said.

Smita Bhattacharyya

Smita Bhattacharyya is Northeast Now Correspondent in Jorhat. She can be reached at: triptyaddy@gmail.com