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Odisha/Sambalpur District Coal Mining | Habitat Loss

The state government, with the involvement of the Odisha Forest Development Corporation started felling trees in the Talabira II and Talabira III coal blocks. Talabira, a revenue village, consists of five hamlets – Budhia Palli, Munda Pada, Padhan Palli, Khatun Pada and Padar.

The coal blocks lie close to the Sambalpur-Jharsuguda district boundary which is near the state highway 10, connecting the two district headquarters in Western Odisha. A total of ​ 1,038.187 hectares of forest land in the Sambalpur and Jharsuguda forest divisions is planned to be diverted to pave way for the coal mining project.Tree felling has started in Sambalpur while trees in Jharsuguda will be cut down in the next phase.

Though the local environmentalists claimed that more than 40,000 trees had been cut

down​ , as of December 20, the officials refuted the charge. According to an Odisha

Forest Development Corporation official, only 17,000 trees ​ had been cut down till the

date. The target number of trees to be cut, as per the inspection report, is ​ 1,30,721​ . The

OFDC official, while requesting anonymity, claimed that the cutting process in

Sambalpur district is now almost over.

Tribal rights activists claim that the forest has ​rich biodiversity​ and a threat to this could

be disastrous. Tribal rights and livelihood expert Y Giri Rao from Bhubaneswar said,

“The Forest Advisory Committee mentions that more than 1.35 lakh trees would be

felled. Out of total trees, 69% trees are of diameter more than 60 cm. It indicates the

good health of the forest. Further, the report mentions that soil and regeneration health

of Forest areas are good. The villagers have been protecting it since the 1980s. The

village also got a certificate from the forest department for their contribution for the

conservation of forests.”

Government ​ documents​ claim that the forests in this part of Odisha host plant species

such as sal, mahul, asan, dhaura, jamun, mango and char. The faunal species in the area are snake, squirrel, jackal, mongoose and others.

The village residents had formed an organisation called ​ Talabira Gramya Jungle

Committee ​ and had appointed a guard, paying him three kilograms of rice per family for

protecting the forest.

“We have protected this forest for more than 50 years. Around​ 3,000 people are

dependent on this forest​ . ​ which is around 970 hectares in area​ . Now, these trees are

being cut down by the government for coal,” Hemant Kumar Raut, a resident of Khinda

hamlet, said.

He added that when he and his neighbours went to the district collector, they were told

that the ​ forest belonged to the government and the villagers had no right or say

regarding what the government did with it.

Now that they have no land and bereft of the hope of saving the forest they so longingly

grew,​ they are now preparing to leave the village if they get compensation​ . For the tribal

inhabitants, the ongoing logging exercise is nothing sort of bereavement as the forests

have been their part for so long.

Guarded by heavy police and security forces, ​ tree felling​ in Talabira started in early

December 2019. While the locals estimated that around 40,000 trees were felled, official

sources placed the number at ‘only’ 15,000.

The proposed Talabira II and III blocks coal mining project belongs to the Neyveli

Lignite Corporation (NLC) India. The Odisha state government ​ submitted a proposal​ in

May 2014 to obtain approval of the Union government for diversion of the 1038 hectares

of forest land. This included 4.051 hectares under the safety zone within the leasehold

area of 1914.063 hectares allocated for opencast coal projects (OCP) in Jharsuguda

and Sambalpur Forest Divisions.

Stage II clearances for the project came through in March 2019. The Ministry of

Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) gave permission to divert the

forest land for an opencast coal mining project. Locals said that the permission was

given based on forged Gram Sabha resolutions. For forest land to be diverted for

non-forest use, the consent of the communities living there in the form of Gram Sabha

resolutions are mandatory, as per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

The destruction of forests in the region is also a grave violation of the Forest Rights Act

(FRA) 2006. According to the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), one of

the villages, Patrapali, has already submitted Community Forest Rights claims, which

are still ​ pending.​ In addition to this, villagers have said that district officials acquired a

fake Gram Sabha consent for carrying out mining.

Locals are not convinced about the “re-plantation” promises being made by the

corporate giant and are taking on the apathetic approach of the government by

continuing their resistance.

Before news of the tree felling first came to light a few days ago, NLC continued with the digging work, even as the authorities did not answer the allegations of forged Gram Sabha resolutions, which ​ The Wire had​ previously reported​ . Several mails to the authorities, right from the collector to the DIG and the NLC have gone unanswered. Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik hasn’t commented on this issue either.

It is important now that we highlight the pollution, risk of diseases and how the district officials and FD of odisha faked Gram Sabha consent, neglecting the views of villagers who are going to suffer. Many villagers are now moving away from their homeland due to this. Some of the villagers were bribed by the NLC for their support but were later fooled. Giving compensation would not change the damage that this project would cause. NLC is going to mine in 2021 which will increase climate change and we need to act now to stop this from happening.


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