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Dehing Patkai: Chronological mapping of coal mines reveal degradation

Much has been spoken about the issue of coal mining in Dehing Patkai. The debate over whether it is an elephant reserve or a reserve forest or a wildlife sanctuary has taken people through a mental maze which only opens up more questions than it answers. Then the question still stands whether it is legal or illegal. Is it justifiable if it is legal? If not, who is accountable? Is it the forest minister, wildlife warden, chief minister, or the entire system as a whole? What about the previous government and the rulers of those times? Opposition leader Pradyut Bordoloi who has been very vocal against the coal smuggling racket was himself the minister of environment and forest and a four-time MLA from Margherita. Is he free of guilt? What becomes of the many NGOs and the environment conservationists who have been active in the forest for years, yet have made public statements that are self-contradicting and misleading for the general public.

Also read: Assam: In Dehing Patkai, coal mining is a way of life

The weight of the questions is such that any person seeking for answers might get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this unholy web. A web that spreads out just like the network of mines it seeks to protect. A look at the development of this trade over the years and its impact on the forest and wildlife is possible by looking at the satellite images of the right places and over the right period of time. Through this story, we try to bring to you the development of one single location over a seven-year period. The scale of the potential threat of hundreds of such mines spread over the forest and hills can be very easily imagined.

The location being shown is on the south face of the Saleki hill in the Assam-Arunachal Border. This is a part of the Proposed Reserve Forest on which mining permission is to be granted to CIL. But a major section of the hill has already been mined illegally right under the nose (and quite obviously with the good grace) of the authority concerned. The pictures of Dehing Patkai mapping are arranged chronologically.

Septem 2014: Dehing Patkai, Assam – Arunachal Border. Green forests and nothing else
January 2017: A section of forested area has been cleared. Rat hole mines are present.
November 2018: A full scale Open Cast Mine has been developed
January 2019: A big operational mine in place of the greenery
June 2019: Business is good. Mounds of coal are visible at the mountain top
January 2020: A network of mines are in place. Roads have been properly cleared out
January 2020: Zooming in
January 2020: The entire South Face of the hill has been eroded. Road and transportation networks are also clearly visible.
January 2020: A closer look at the once beautiful hill now scalded and blackened.

The fact is that this is only one of many mines spread across the forest. Human boundaries of state or country cannot define the boundaries of such rainforests. If observed carefully, this same belt of rainforest extends up to Indonesia. In this regard, demarcation of a select section of the forest as a reserve forest and the rest being unconserved clearly spells nefarious intentions. Moreover, statements of certain ‘popular’ wildlife activists who have built their brand working on these Dehing Patkai forests claiming that there has been no coal mining in the reserve forest area are very much questionable in intent since nomenclature notwithstanding, the regions are a part of the same forest and need to be protected regardless.

We will be bringing you more updates on the story to bring forward the clear and bigger picture of the entire issue.

Written by Axomson

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