GUWAHATI, June 8 – Flourishing rackets of illegal coal mining continue unabated on the verdant Dehing Patkai hills, much of which also form the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve comprising the last vestiges of the State’s famed rainforests.
Official sources wishing anonymity told The Assam Tribune that illegal coal syndicates had been running parallel to the legal mining operations conducted in the region by the North Eastern Coalfields of Coal India Limited, a Central PSU, since 1973.
According to sources, the extent of the illegal mining would be larger than the area covered under legal mining. “It is a big nexus and the lack of enforcement and failure to
update the relevant rules concerning stocking, transportation and sale of coal is helping the syndicates,” sources said.
The thriving illegal mining in the Dehing Patkai range is borne out by the recent detection of rampant rat-hole mining in some of its constituent reserve forests. According to official data, illegal rat-hole mining was detected at Compartment No. 2 of Namphai reserve forest (RF), Tinkapani RF, Tipong RF/PRF, Tirap RF/PRF, Lekhpani RF and Saleki PRF under Digboi Forest Division.
According to observers, there is much more to what meets the eyes vis-à-vis illegal mining in the Dehing Patkai area.
“Unscrupulous elements, including the mafia, have been digging coal from the thickly-forested hills in and around areas like Namdang, Tikok, Ledo, Tirap, Tipong, Lekhapani and Jagun in Tinsukia district – both through opencast and rat-hole underground digging – acquiring more coal than what Coal India produces,” environment activist SK Dutta said.
“The huge quantity of illegally-mined coals are being transported without any hindrance to various destinations by the national highways in the full view of police, administration, and other agencies concerned,” he added.
Dutta said continued public protests and even police cases were not yielding any results. “It is powerful nexus, as it is not possible to transport the illegally-mined and stolen coal without the connivance of the government authorities concerned,” he said.
According to Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi, “unprecedented illegal rat-hole coal mining” is going on at Dirak and Likhajan areas under Dehing Patkai which, he said, was not possible without the blessing of local political leaders. “Dehing Patkai should be protected as an Asiatic biodiversity hotspot and elephant reserve,” he said.
Dutta, however, asserts that successive governments throughout the decades had been taking a lenient view of the illegalities and that the Gauhati High Court should take a stern view of both legal opencast mining and rampant illegal mining in the biodiversity hotspot.
“Apparently, governments have failed to protect our last stretches of rainforests. The court should take serious note of the depredations perpetrated on Dehing Patkai and intervene quickly to stop the vandalism, failing which this invaluable wealth bestowed by nature would be lost forever,” Dutta, former general secretary of Assam Council for Environmental Protection, said.
Conservationists have also called for expansion of the existing Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary (111.19 sq km) and upgrade it to a national park for according strict legal protection to the remaining rainforests.