Though the West Bengal Chief Minister had given the assurance that the dispossessed in the Deocha-Pachami coal mine project in Birbhum would not suffer the predicament of landlosers in Singur and Nandigram, the welter of issues raised by green activists call for reflection. They have raised specific questions relating to the impact on environment of the proposed project to mine coal and basalt.
A section of the settlers is vehemently opposed to the project. Those in the present government, it would be pertinent to recall, had opposed the chemical hub project in Nayachar on environmental grounds. Thus far, it is far from certain whether the protocol to obtain environmental clearance has been adhered to.
There is no data available in the public domain about the possible impact of the proposed project, and if any “mitigation steps” have been taken, despite the fact that acquisition of land has started. The government says that the compensation package has been announced and job application forms are being distributed.
It bears recall that at the Glasgow climate summit last November, all countries, including India, had agreed to the procedure of coal phase-down chiefly to curb global emissions and warming. Green activists wonder whether the detailed project report and the assessment report on the environmental impact have been prepared. They say work on the project has started without such crucial assessments. Public hearings are yet to be held. Nor for that matter has the extent of forest area to be cleared – or the number of trees to be cut – been ascertained.
The status of the ground water and the surface water in the area calls for thorough calibration to determine the impact on nearby rivers. The danger of pollution in the peripheral areas is real. Not the least because the mining of coal will be carried out with huge explosives to break the basalt barrier. It is not known how the project will manage toxic waste and preserve biodiversity.
There are, in a word, a bevy of red herrings across the trail. Indeed, a report crafted by the Geological Survey of India mentions what it calls the “existence of thick basalt layers” that is bound to render mining still more difficult. No less a matter of concern is the feasibility of the project not the least because of the resistance to thermal power.
The Glasgow summit had underlined the urgency to reduce the use of coal to minimise carbon emissions. The West Bengal government might, in the manner of Bangladesh, have to countenance certain challenges. It shall not be easy to obtain funds and technical support for a coal-based project. Perhaps it is time to pause, reflect and take stock of all imperatives.