Why dropping Namchik Namphuk mine from coal auction is good for Arunachal
On the environmental front, civil society bodies have been raising concerns, with no response.
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Mainstream media captured the essence of euphoria of the Narendra Modi-led government over the income from coal auctions that has yielded potential revenues, royalties, upfront payments of Rs 2.07 lakh crore which far exceeded the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimates. The announcement may have sounded like music to the BJP-led Union government but what was music to our - the Arunachalees' - ears was coal and power minister Piyush Goyal’s decision to drop the Namchik Namphuk coal mine from the list of mines to be auctioned, owing to "technical reasons". Remember, Goyal rattled the civil society in Arunachal Pradesh on July 2, 2014 when media quoted him of announcing the reopening of the coal field.
The civil society bodies in the state had more reasons than one to believe that Goyal was not briefed of the depth and width of the issues relating to the controversial coalfield, including the reason for the suspension of operation since May 10, 2012.
To jog one's memory, the Namchik-Namphuk coalfield was allocated to the Arunachal Pradesh Mineral Development and Trading Corporation Ltd (APMDTCL) on October 28, 2003 by the coal ministry. The total area of the coal block is 133.65 hectares and the mining lease is held by the corporation for a period of 20 years. APMDTCL, through an agreement, handed over the mining work to National Mining Company Limited, a private company based in Tinsukia, Assam, on April 4, 2007 for a period of five years. Out of the total area allocated, the operation of open-cast mining was undertaken only on 39.02 hectares between April 2007 and February 2012. As per "official" records, the total extraction of coal during the period was at 10,00,000 metric tonnes till the mining operation was suspended.
Apparently, it was suspended on two counts: one, a blatant violation of the terms of reference and secondly, the security sources suspected a diversion of resources to the terror outfits active in the region.
"Arunachal government was allotted the coal block, that is to generate power, coal produced in its Namchik open cast mine was sold in open market through contractors attracting the attention of outlawed organisations" - wrote the then coal secretary, Government of India, Alok Perti in an official communique.
"The state PSU (public sector undertaking) has violated the provision of CMN (Coal Mines Nationalisation) Act by giving power to private contractors to sell the coal produced in the state," Perti wrote in the same letter mentioned above.
Above are technical points and glitches but from the security and environment point of view there are damning reports too. The coalfields of Arunachal Pradesh have been contributing to the coffers of at least three rebel groups NSCN (I-M), NSCN (K) and ULFA, wrote the then Tinsukia district magistrate SS Menakshi Sundram, who happens to be a critical cog in administrative and policy matters. A more damaging report was that of the Union ministry of home affairs on the collusion with Naga insurgent groups. Perti in a letter dated May 15, 2012 to the Arunachal Pradesh chief secretary wrote, "In reference to Namchik-Namphuk coal block, we have received a letter from ministry of home affairs informing that Naga insurgent groups are deeply involved in the coal mining and they have requested (the) ministry to consider taking over the entire mining operations in the state".
On the environmental front, civil society bodies have been raising concerns, with no response. Reportedly, there have been more illegal operations than legal ones in adjoining areas, including in Longthom I and Longthom II villages.
The mushrooming of coke units totalling about 35, to refine raw coal caused tremendous health hazards. Contaminated water, flooding of habitations, cracks in housing structure on account of blasting in the mine site, dying vegetation including tea plantations have been common phenomena. So much of damage, especially in the backdrop of the recent decision of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to ban Meghalaya's rat-hole coal mining owing to environmental concerns borne out of unscientific mining, should be a wake-up call for the state.
Given the aforementioned facts, the Union government must find answers to a few fundamental questions before reopening the open cast mine in the near future. One, what was the specific reason that the Arunachal Pradesh mineral corporation had sought the allocation of the Namchik-Namphuk coal block? Secondly, how much coal was produced - officially and unofficially - in the state since the allotment of the coal block to the corporation? Moreover, how much of coal was supplied, and to which sector? Fourthly, does the ministry have names of the power companies to which the corporation supplied the coal since the allotment of the coal block? Furthermore, was the devised pricing mechanism in sync with prevalent competitive market practice?
Be warned; look at the tenability of reopening the open-cast coal field not only from a legal angle, but due consideration must be accorded to environmental issues also.