Last update:
2020-08-21

Coal mining in Dehing Patkai, Assam, India

Granting coal mining permission during the 2020 pandemic in a region marred with illegal coal mining, rich biodiversity and indigenous communities in Assam is met with strong protests.


Description:

Dehing Patkai, famously known as ‘Amazon of the East’, is the largest rainforest in India, home to many endangered species and is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of lowland rainforest area in Assam, extending upto the Deomali elephant reserve in Arunachal Pradesh [1]. These rainforests straddling the Dehing River and the Patkai range of the Eastern Himalayas, which comprise the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot, is a complex yet delicate ecosystem [2]. According to the Forest Department of Assam, there are 46 species of mammals, 71 species of reptiles, 290 species of wild birds, 276 species of butterflies, 70 species of fish, 70 species of dragonflies, 101 species of orchids and thousands of other insects are found in the sanctuary. Located on the southern bank of Brahmaputra, Dehing Patkai is also home to a large number of Asiatic elephants. Thousands of trees belonging to 61 rare species like Hollang, Mekai, Dhuna, Udiyam, Nahar, Samkothal, Bheer, Hollock, Elephant-apple, Fig etc keep the rainforest pristine [1]. Dehing Patkai is also home to Assam’s state bird, White-Winged Duck; the state tree, Hollong and the state flower, Fox Tail Orchid [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Coal mining in Dehing Patkai, Assam, India
Country:India
State or province:Assam
Location of conflict:Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts of Upper Assam
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Coal mining activities in the region dates back to the British era. In 1973, North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a Coal India subsidiary, was provided a 30-year lease to perform its operations [6]. As the lease expired in the year 2003, Coal India should have attained a clearance from the forest department as per the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, but it didn’t do so. It was the same year when the state government notified Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve and the wildlife sanctuary was carved out in June 2004 [2]. But Coal India continued to mine in the area [2]. Information furnished under RTI confirms allegations by the local people and environmental activists that coal mining in the area has been going on for long, even in the absence of ‘formal clearances’ and renewals [3].

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Project area:93,700
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/04/2020
Company names or state enterprises:Coal India Limited (CIL) from India
Relevant government actors:National Board of Wild Life (NBWL), Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
Assam state government,
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:National Alliance of People´s Movement, I am Dehing Patkai group
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Referendum other local consultations
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Genetic contamination, Global warming, Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsLarge elephant reserve, enormous biodiversity endangered
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
Application of existing regulations
Moratoria
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although Assam government's response has been positive in the sense that the wildlife sanctuary will be converted to a national park, environmentalists are still struggling to include the whole area of several reserve forests under it. Further, coal mining is only temporarily stopped.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Order of NGT principle bench to form a committee to probe into the illegal coal mining in Dehing Patkai elephant reserve, dated 20 July 2020.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

3. Bikash Singh. 2020. Suspension of mining operation in Coal India Ltd´s Margherita is temporary. Economic Times. 7 June 2020.
[click to view]

4. Tora Agarwala 2020. Assam government to upgrade Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary to national park. Indian Express. July 7, 2020.
[click to view]

2. Abdul Gani and Rituparna Kakoty. 2020. In quest for ´black gold´, why Dehing Patkai, amazon of the east, is gasping for life. Outlook India. 8 June 2020.
[click to view]

13. Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty. 2020. Beginning Consversations: Assam Musician Joi Barua on kickstarting a drive for the environment. The Wire. June 22, 2020.
[click to view]

6. Environmentalist, congress, others oppose coal mining in Dehing Patkai forest. Economic Times. May 20, 2020.
[click to view]

7. Assam won't allow opencast coal mining in Dehing Patkai: forest minister. Outlook India. May 27, 2020.
[click to view]

8. Ratnadip Choudhury. 2020. Illegal coal mining continues in Assam Sanctuary before Centre´s approval: RTI . NDTV. May 25, 2020.
[click to view]

14. Abdul Gani. 2020. Killing lungs of northeast: rapper sings on coal mining in Assam´s Dehing Patkai Forest. Outlook India. June 6, 2020.
[click to view]

9. Illegal coal mining in Dehing Patkai. The Sentinel. May 26, 2020.
[click to view]

11. Hemanta Kumar Nath. 2020. Online campaign urges Centre to reverse course on coal mining in Assam´s Dehing Patkai. India Today. May 21, 2020.
[click to view]

12. Hemanta Kumar Nath. 2020. Assam: Thousands protest closure of North Eastern Coalfields, call to protect Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. India Today. 14 June 2020
[click to view]

10. Pranjal Pratim Dihingia. 2020. Don´t let Assam´s Dehing Patkai suffer like Chhattisgarh´s Hasdeo Arand forest. 21 May 2020.
[click to view]

15. Nilakhi Hazarika. 2020. Gauhati University students start campaign to save dehing patkai wildlife sanctuary. The News Mill. May 18, 2020.
[click to view]

1. NAPM statement issued on 12 July 2020. Dehing Patkai: Post-facto clearance of 16 years od ilegal coal mining and fresh approval for mining by NBWL is an environmental travesty.
[click to view]

18. Economic Times. 2020. Assam won't allow opencast coal mining in Dehing Patkai: forest minister. 28 May 2020.
[click to view]

19. Monisha Purvar. 2020. NGT orders formation of a committee to probe large scale illegal coal mining in reserve forest of Assam. Live Law. 27 July 2020.
[click to view]

16. Teresa Rehman. 2020. A cartoonist is using satire to spotlight Assam’s biodiversity – and its destruction. Scroll. 4 July 2020.
[click to view]

5. Tora Agarwala. 2020. Assam orders judicial probe into illegal coal mining in Dehing Patkai. Indian Express. July 19, 2020.
[click to view]

17. Indraneel Agasty. 2020. Dehing Patkai: Chronological mapping of coal mines reveal degradation. Inside NE. 5 June 2020.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The Quint´s video explanation of why the online campaign to protect ´amazon of the east´ is here to stay (Youtube)
[click to view]

Online campaign in Change.org to save saluki and dehing patkai elephant reserve and rainforest from coal mining.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Anwesha Borthakur and Brototi Roy
Last update21/08/2020
Comments
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