Coal mining threatens many of India’s sensitive wildlife habitats as the coal ministry is pressing the Ministry of Environment and Forests for access to even more forested areas. In 2009, the ministry had categorized 203 coal blocks as no-go areas. However, early this year it agreed to relax the no-go constraint on 53-percent of these areas, apparently under pressure from the coal ministry. Under a later meeting in April, this rose to 71-percent of the reserved areas and apparently, under the meeting scheduled in June, the coal ministry wants access to 90 percent of the blocked off areas. Coal mining in its current form is extremely harsh on the environment. About one third of current coal mines are said to be operating under some violation or the other and without the required clearances. The strategy in the past has also been to bring in more tracts under mining without exhausting the potential of areas already under mining.
Many of these forest areas are either permanent wildlife habitat, or important corridors for wide-ranging species such as leopards, tiger or elephant. Mining is already destroying many wildlife corridors across India. “If we want to save what is left of our wildlife, we need to keep our remaining forests a ‘no go’ zone for mining. The Government needs to organise a proper consultation with experts before taking a decision,” says Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.