Guwahati, July 6 (PTI): Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Monday announced that the state government has decided to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary into a national park.
The Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, which surrounds the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, was in the middle of a major controversy recently after the government gave preliminary approval to Coal India to mine it despite the PSU carrying out illegal mining inside the forest for 16 years.
"Our government has decided to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, which is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna, to a national park," Sonowal tweeted.
"In a meeting with senior officials in Guwahati today, I have directed them to take necessary steps in this regard," he added.
The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across 111.42 sq km, while the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve with 937 sq km of area surrounds the sanctuary in its periphery across Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.
Though it was mining since 2003, Coal India Ltd (CIL) sought clearance in 2012 only, but it was rejected then. It applied again in 2019 for clearance of 98.59 hectares, out of which CIL was carrying out mining activities in 73 hectares.
In May, North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of CIL, had accepted that mining was going on since 2003 and claimed that it had applied for renewal of its lease in 2003, but the Assam government did not act upon this for a long time.
The Centre gave stage I forest clearance to the public sector undertaking (PSU) for 57.20 hectares in December 2019 with 28 conditions, including fines and action against responsible officers violating the Forest Conservation Act.
Accordingly, the Assam Forest Department in May slapped a penalty of Rs 43.24 crore on CIL for carrying out illegal mining activity inside the forest, which is termed as the Amazon of East, for 16 years since 2003.
In its last meeting in April, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended CIL''s proposal for legalising the illegal mining for approval provided it fulfils the 28 conditions.
On June 4, the Gauhati High Court issued notices to the Centre, state, CIL and other stakeholders after filing a suo moto case against coal mining inside Dehing Patkai, the largest rainforest of Northeast.
Two more PILs were filed by advocates and a mountaineer in the high court, which fixed July 20 for next hearing of the case.