Can Coal India’s man-made forest turn ‘no-go’ into ‘go’?
Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), a Coal India subsidiary, is trying to show a new way to ecological restoration in coal mining areas. It plans to create actual forests, instead of only planting trees, and support biodiversity in the area where a coal mine has been closed down. Creating an actual forest can bring about changes in the area’s rainfall index.
What is actually BCCL doing? A visit to Tetlmari mining area would show how an exhausted mine after being abandoned has been turned into an actual forest and how bio diversity is taking place in the area. Heaps of over burden, which makes a small range of hillocks, have been given green cover with three-tier plantation. First, a grass cover on the soil and rock bed, second, a coverage with a layer of shrubs and, third, plantation of big trees, which completes making an entire forest.
“An actual forest can be created in a period of ten years if scientifically done”, Raju EVR, BCCL’s deputy general manager, environment, said. In Tetlmari the process of giving a three-tier green cover started in 2011 with the help of the Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehradun. In three years a 15-hectare hillock is full of grass cover, shrubs, some trees, and signs of bio-diversity.
“This 15-hectare forest is now home to jackals, snakes and numerous insects, a rarity in a coal mining area, Raju said. During the day, one would see butterflies, moths and birds in the forest, which is unusual in the area. We see that a variety of birds have started migrating to this area, something which was never seen before. Our forest has started supporting bio-diversity”, Raju said. He said creating such a forest cover was not an easy thing to do because of the soil type, which has variety of chemical components. Besides, Latuna weeds, which grows very fast on such abandoned land, doesn’t allow native species to grow. So the entire area had to be cleared of Latuna weeds before native species started getting back.
But what is the idea behind creating such an actual forest? TK Lahiri, BCCL’s chairman and managing director, said, “Our attempt is to try and convince the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) that we can restore an actual or even a better forest if we adopt a three-tier forest cover. So if for coal mining we need to clear forest land, the MoEF can remain rest assured that we will restore it”, Lahri said.
If the MoEF is convinced that such an actual forest can be made, it might relax its norms of environment and forest clearance, which will fast-track coal mining and help in increasing coal production, the need of the hour, Lahiri said.
The MoEF has classified un-fragmented forest landscapes having a gross forest cover of more than 30% and weighted forest cover of more than 10% as ‘No Go’ areas. Fragmented forest landscapes having gross forest cover of less than 30% and weighted forest cover of less than 10% have been categorised as ‘Go’ area.
“This Go and No Go is ridiculous. If the government wants us to increase coal production, it has to allow mining in all coal bearing areas”, opined a BCCL official. The coal ministry is also of the view that the MoEF should consider all coal blocks without reference to ‘Go’ and ‘No Go.’
The government is stuck between the need for making available more coal bearing areas for enhanced coal mining and the need to protect the Forest (Conversation) Act 1980. The MoEF is examining whether a three-tier forest cover may be a solution to this problem, since an actual forest can be created this way in ten years if an existing forest is cleared for coal mining.
Raju said the MoEF after visiting the sites is convinced that there may be a solution to the problem of go, no-go through this mechanism. “ The MoEF is asking all CIL subsidiaries to adopt this three-tier forestry model for ecological restoration in coal mining areas and is mulling holding a national workshop in Delhi in January to promote the concept of three-tier forestry. “ The two projects in Tetlmari and Damuda ghutway in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand will be showcased as model projects in forestry.
BCCL has implemented these two projects on a pilot basis with the help of Delhi University’s former vice-chancellor CR Babu and Dehradun’s Forest Research Institute. After the success of this pilot project the CIL subsidiary is now convinced that it should extensively go for creating actual forests in closed down mines. “Whether the MoEF gives a mandate for making three-tier plantations or not, we will bring 50 hectares of abandoned mines every year under actual forest cover”, a BCCL official said.