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Green ministry justifies mining on wildlife-rich Gola riverbed!

The centre feels that mining on the riverbed of Gola River in Uttarakhand is not causing any ecological disturbance and harm to the critical wildlife habitat in the area and that it did not err in granting forest clearances for mining to a state-run body.

The nearly 70-kilometre-long Gola River originates from Padampuri in Nainital district and flows through the foothills in Haldwani and East Terai forest divisions of Uttarakhand. The Gola River stretch was also identified as a Critical Area for movement of tigers and elephants between the Terai East and Terai Central forest divisions by the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India in 2004.

About 1,497 hectares running along 29 kilometres of the river had been given away for mining of sand, boulders and other minor minerals for ten years to the Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation (UFDC) by the state government after the environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) accorded both Stage-1(in principle approval) and Stage-II (working approval) to it under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The ministry of environment and forests has told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that it acted with due diligence while examining the appraising the proposal (for mining) and had duly considered all the relevant factors before according such an approval.

However, to mitigate the impacts of the collection of minor minerals from the Gola River on the wildlife migratory corridor and habitat, the ministry had imposed certain conditions on the state government and UFDC. While granting Stage-I approval, the ministry had asked the state government to notify Pawalgarh as a Community Reserve and about 250 sq. km. area in Nandhaur as a Wildlife Sanctuary. It also asked both the contracting agency and the state to give safe passage to wildlife along the Gola Corridor and settle locals’ compensation issues.

The ministry also banned collection of minor minerals in a 2.50 km stretch of the river to eliminate disturbance on the movement of wildlife along the corridor and had prohibited dwelling by labourers inside the forest area, among other conditions. It was only after all the conditions of Stage-I clearance(granted on 10 January this year) were fulfilled that the ministry accorded Stage-II approval on 23 January, the centre has stated before the court.

The locals have however, maintained that the wildlife corridor in the area was critically affected by the intensive mining carried out by UFDC along the river and that the ash deposition from the stone crashers was adversely affecting the health of the local rural population.

According to local inhabitants, the individuals operating the stone crashers inside the forest area enjoyed strong political shield and deep craters were formed inside the riverbed by mining. About 12,000 labourers were camping right inside the forest and around 10,000 trucks pass daily, causing disturbance to the wildlife, they said.

Countering the environment ministry’s claim, Dinesh Pandey, a resident of Halduchaur in Nainital and an appellant in the case, asserted, ‘None of the conditions stipulated in the approval are complied with. The government is misleading everyone. The compliance can be verified by anyone, as on date.’
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