Relaxation of river zone regulation law will damage rivers and even mines, say environmentalists
The minutes of a meeting of the Maharastra River Regulatory Zone (RRZ) committee, made public recently, reveal that the committee has taken a decision to allow coal mining activities up to 250 metre from river banks. This is a substantial dilution of an earlier government resolution of 2009, which set the limit at 2 km from the river bank for rivers classed A-II, while for A-I class rivers, the limit was 8 km.
The decision has been taken following a plea for relaxation of norms from the Union coal ministry and Western Coalfield Limited (WCL), a public sector coal mining company, on the grounds that coal production has reduced and that it is impacting various coal-based industries, especially the thermal power sector.
The move has angered environment groups, especially in Vidarbha, an area currently reeling under floods , and where major rivers like Wardha and Irai are already heavily polluted because of coal mining. The relaxation will not only cause untold environmental damage, but also make mining activity itself risky, say experts and environment groups.
Western Coal Ltd’s wrongdoings
Y Y Doodhpachare, environmental scientist who works with the Janta Mahavidyalaya in Chandrapur, says that mining regulations are not being followed by WCL in the district, and a relaxation will only aggravate things. “In Chandrapur, WCL’s overburden dumps are located virtually inside the river beds,” he says. “The Mana and Lalpeth mines, especially, have dumped so much over-burden in the Irai river that the river-bed has risen by several metres.” Mining has also adversely impacted river fauna, he adds.
Coal mining so close to rivers, says the scientist who has worked extensively on riverine pollution because of coal mining in the district, may also cause damage to the mines themselves. “During heavy rains river water enters the mines even now, making coal extraction very difficult. If the mines are moved closer, such incidents will rise, posing danger to mine workers. WCL will also incur losses,” says Doodhpachare.
Only low quality coal left
Vidarbha Environment Action Group’s Sudhir Paliwal says that most of the good quality coal in Vidarbha has already been extracted, and allowing mining close to the river beds makes no sense. “The minutes of the meeting mention that overburden dumps should be situated far from the river, but WCL has never followed regulations, and there is no reason to expect it will do so now,” he says. “The costs of mining will not be sustainable, because of the low quality coal, and it will only add further to the pollution burden in the rivers.”
Paliwal says that instead of relaxing regulations, the environment ministry should look into WCL’s violations and take penal action against the company. “We will challenge this move in court,” he adds.
The decision to relax RRZ norms comes close on the heels of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s visit to flood-hit Chndrapur district, during which he commented on the need to clear the rivers and streams in the region to prevent floods.
The move has also drawn flak from politicians from the region. People’s representatives from the region hoped that the chief minister will quash the relaxation, failing which there might be large-scale public protests.
WCL sources say the company has followed all mining regulations and the new relaxation move will help the company meet the power needs of the region.