On Tuesday (April 4), Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting that three coal/lignite mining blocks in the Cauvery delta region of the state, which are proposed for auction by the Centre, be excluded from the process. Stalin urged for the exclusion of these blocks due to concerns regarding the potential environmental impact on the delta region.
The Tamil Nadu government was not even consulted in the matter and the Union Coal Ministry proceeded unilaterally, Stalin told Modi in a letter, and requested that in future the State government be consulted.
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Stalin’s intervention came after the Coordination Committee of Tamil Nadu All Farmers Associations announced that it would hold a protest as the proposed mines would cause an environmental disaster if the auction were allowed to be proceed.
“If allowed, the mining project would lead to desertification, full groundwater depletion, end to fertile lands and displacement of people,” PR Pandian, a farmers’ leader said in a statement.
Parties including the CPI(M) and the PMK have strongly opposed the proposed auction in Tamil Nadu. Marxist party-affiliated TN Vivasayigal Sangam warned that it would hold continuous protests.
Ministers MRK Panneerselvam (Agriculture) and Udhayanidhi Stalin (Youth Welfare) gave assurances that such mining projects would not be allowed. Udhayanidhi said Chief Minister Stalin would make an announcement in this regard in the Assembly on Wednesday.
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The Chief Minister said that out of the 101 blocks put up for auction across the country, three are in Tamil Nadu. The three blocks — East of Sethiathope, Michaelpatti and Vadaseri — fell under the Cauvery delta region of Tamil Nadu, which is considered the rice bowl of the state.
Vadaseri and East of Sethiathope fall within the Protected Agricultural Zone under the Tamil Nadu Protected Agriculture Zone Development Act, 2020, while the Michaelpatti block falls in a major paddy-growing area adjoining a very fertile part of the Cauvery delta, Stalin underscored.
Michaelpatti is in Udayarpalayam taluk of Ariyalur district, East of Sethiathope is in Bhuvanagiri taluk of Cuddalore district and Vadaseri is in Orathanadu taluk of Thanjavur district.
Under Section 4(1) of the 2020 Act, no person shall undertake any new project or new activity specified in the Second Schedule in the protected agricultural zone.
The projects covered in the Second Schedule that are prohibited include Exploration, drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas including coal-bed methane, shale gas and other similar hydrocarbons.
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The present tender conditions include the exploitation of coal-bed methane and hence are covered within the prohibition of the Tamil Nadu Protected Agriculture Zone Development Act.
This implies that even if the tender process was conducted and a successful bidder identified, it would not be possible to take up the mining project.
Hence, the auction process is a wasteful exercise in so far as the identified blocks in Tamil Nadu are concerned.
“Had the State government been consulted prior to the issue of the notification, these issues could have been clarified and the unnecessary disquiet caused by the issue of the notification for auction could have been avoided,” Stalin said.
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“Given the fact that valuable agricultural lands are involved and the food security of the people of Tamil Nadu is at stake, it would be appropriate if the three mining blocks in Tamil Nadu Vadaseri, Michaelpatti and East of Sethiathoppe proposed for auction in the 7th/17th tranche of auction are excluded from the auction process by issuing a corrigendum,” he added.
Stalin also requested that “in future the State Governments are consulted by the concerned Ministries in the Government of India before such public notifications are issued” and sought the “urgent intervention” of the Prime Minister “in this regard to rectify the situation caused by the issue of this notification by the Ministry of Coal, so that needless agitation and disquiet is avoided”.
The nominated authority under the Union Ministry of Coal had invited the 17th and 7th tranche of auction for coal and lignite on 29th March, 2023 under the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015, and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.