40,000 trees cut for NLC’s coal mine at Talabira village

Ground report by: Amjad Badshah and Sajjad Badshah .

Approximate 40,000 trees have been cut in the Talabira Village of Sambalpur district of Odisha on the 9th of December 2019 to make the land available for coal mining of Neyveli Lignite Corporation(NLC) India Ltd. This massive cutting of trees followed the execution of Stage II clearance of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to divert 1,038.187 hectares of forest land for an opencast coal mining project. The NLC had signed a mine development and operator contract with the Adani Group in 2018. This project of NLC is to be operationalized in Jharsuguda and Sambalpur districts. According to the reports from Chief Conservator of Forest, Sambalpur, it would entail a cutting of 1,30,721 trees for the establishment of a coal mine. While the villagers of Talabira had been protecting the forest for more than fifty years with the formation of the Talabira Gramya Jungle Committee. And an estimated 3,000 people are dependent on this forest. Moreover, along with Talabira, five other hamlets have been joining hands for the protection of the forest. But as local residents who are protecting the forest, have never applied for title under the Forest Rights Act, (FRA), 2006. So, no title under the FRA has been filed. Speaking to NFTV, villagers told that as they were dependent on the forest and have been protecting it for half of a century, they felt no one can take away their forest from them. Moreover, the villagers said that Sambalpur district Collector told them while they had complained about cutting down trees, the Collector told them that forest belonged to the government and villagers had no say on the same issue. Moreover, the villagers also claimed that the district officials could obtain a fake Gram Sabha consent for carrying out mining. According to July 30, 2009, MoEF&CC circular, Gram Sabha consent has to be acquired before forest diversion. While the villagers told NFTV that they had written to both Collector and Secretary, MoEF asking for their action on the issue of forged signatures which had not signed. But the action still looks distant and the lush green forest is being sacrificed for coal mining.