Nallamala uranium mining: Opposition still groping in the dark

Despite opposition claims that nod for drilling for uranium in Nalamallas was given, there was no such permission for Atomic Minerals Directorate

By   |  Published: 17th Sep 2019  12:00 amUpdated: 17th Sep 2019  1:00 am
Villagers thanking Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao for opposing the move to allow uranium mining in Nallamala forests, in Julapally mandal of Karimnagar district on Monday.

Hyderabad: Plagued by a lack of understanding of procedures pertaining to clearances for using forest land for any project, opposition leaders in the State, in an apparent bid to extract political mileage over the issue of mining for uranium in Telangana State, appear bent on digging themselves deeper into a hole.

Even a categorical assurance from Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao that the State will not permit any uranium mining activity in the Nallamala forests has done little to change the opposition narrative on the subject. Despite opposition leaders’ claims that permission for exploratory drilling for uranium ore deposits in the forest was okayed, the fact remains that so far, no such permission was given to the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) which sought it.

However, even for exploratory drilling, what was sought from DAE were replies to some pointed questions seeking exact details of how it planned to go about the drilling. The State Forest Department sought the borehole locations to determine access to such spots. In fact, as originally proposed, the plan was to use portable backpack drills but it soon became clear that heavy drilling equipment mounted on large trucks was required for the purpose.

Stringent laws

Further, laws governing protected forest areas are clear that no more than 25 bore holes can be dug in an area of 10 sq km of forest. Almost all the land sought by the AMD falls in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve and this in turn would also require mandatory clearances from the wildlife perspective.

Incidentally, this restriction means that the AMD which sought permission to drill about 4,000 such holes in a total extent of 83 sq km would only be able to drill about 206 such bore holes defeating to a great extent the very purpose of its exploratory activities to establish the extent of presence of uranium ore in the Nallamala forests.

Among the conditions imposed by the State Forest Department were that all work should be done between 6 a.m. and sunset, that any activity should not affect the lives of wild animals, that no tree should be felled and that no heavy equipment should be used.

But since the procedure requires that a report be submitted by the State to the Centre, field evaluation of the areas so far identified for drilling, is being completed, which possibly contributed to some confusion over the status of the mining proposal.

Some of the reports cited by opposition leaders are those submitted by the tiger reserve’s then field director in 2016 and field reports by the local DFO, both of which did not recommend mining activity unless satisfactory replies were provided to the questions raised by them.

Exploratory drilling

The only new development was that on June 19 this year, the Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change asked the State to consider the application for permission for exploratory drilling. The Ministry, in its letter, also said despite “certain deficiencies” in DAE’s proposal, it was recommending an “in-principle” approval of the project “subject to submission of all required document/information in due format.”

However, this in-principle approval by the Centre appears to have been misunderstood as actual permissions for the activity. Unless the State Forest Department and the State Wildlife Board okays the proposals, which will then have to be cleared by the National Board for Wildlife, the DAE cannot take any action in the Nallamala forests.

But all of this has become a moot point with the State government making it clear that it will not permit any activity related to mining of uranium in the Nallamala forests.

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