Concerns grow as India’s coal mining cuts through tiger reserves 

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Pench Tiger Reserve in northeastern Indian state of Maharashtra. (AN photo)
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Pench Tiger Reserve in northeastern Indian state of Maharashtra. (AN photo)
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Pench Tiger Reserve in northeastern Indian state of Maharashtra. (AN photo)
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Pench Tiger Reserve in northeastern Indian state of Maharashtra. (AN photo)
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Tigers in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra state of India. (Satpuda Foundation)
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A coal mine in the north eastern Indian state of Maharashtra. (Satpuda Foundation)
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Forests in Tadoba. (Satpuda Foundation)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Concerns grow as India’s coal mining cuts through tiger reserves 

  • Chhatisgarh Environment Minister Mohammad Akbar wrote to Javadekar and requested “that coal blocks in the area of Hasdeo forest and Mand rivers as well as those in the area of the proposed elephant reserve not be included in the upcoming auction”

MUMBAI: Environmentalists backed by some state governments have raised concerns over the Indian government’s recent decision to auction 41 coal mines in ecologically sensitive pockets of Maharashtra state. 
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in central and eastern India are known habitats of Asian tigers, with Madhya Pradesh alone housing more than 500.
The state of Maharashtra said that the Bander coal block was too close to the northern edge of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), which with its core and buffer areas is home to 115 tigers and 151 leopards.
Both wildlife and tribal people will face the brunt of the move when vast chunks of forests will be chopped down to make way for the excavation of coal in open-cast mines.
Jairam Ramesh, Congress MP and former environment minister, described his “deep sense of shock at the manner in which coal blocks in areas of rich biodiversity were put up for auction” in a letter to Prakash Javadekar, the current environment minister.
“You will have the records: The ‘go’ and ‘no go’ classification of coal blocks was made by a joint team of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Coal India in 2009-2010,” Ramesh said.
He added: “I am aware that some politically powerful power producers have had their eyes on some of these coal blocks — the one dangerously near Tadoba.”
He also urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to keep his promise on climate change. 

BACKGROUND

• India launched auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining in areas supporting tiger reserves.

• Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in central and eastern India are known habitats of Asian tigers, with Madhya Pradesh alone housing more than 500.

In September last year, Modi pledged at the UN to double India’s nonfossil energy target to 400 gigawatts. Nearly 63 percent of India’s energy requirements are currently met by coal.
With the country facing an economic downturn, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Modi launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for mining on June 18. He said that this would attract 330 billion rupees ($4.4 billion) in private investments and provide employment to local populations in eastern and central India. Bids have been invited from both domestic and foreign investors.
Maharashtra’s Environment and Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray has opposed the auction of the mine site near the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur district. Chandrapur, a coal mining hub, is the most polluted town in the country. Three mines have been put up for auction in Maharashtra.
An Amravati-based conservationist and founder of Satpuda Foundation, which aims to protect wildlife, told Arab News: “If the coal mine auction comes through, it would fragment the tiger corridor.” 
“In 2010, the coal ministry wanted to allocate the Bander coal mine near TATR as well as other mines in the region. Environmentalists opposed the project and the National Tiger Conservation Authority appointed a committee. We submitted our report expressing our apprehension about the impact of the proposed project on the forest and wildlife in Tadoba. Jairam Ramesh rejected the mining proposal in Bander and called for inspection of other mines.”
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said: “This is a very big policy decision. The state government should have been taken into confidence,” he said.
Chhatisgarh Environment Minister Mohammad Akbar wrote to Javadekar and requested “that coal blocks in the area of Hasdeo forest and Mand rivers as well as those in the area of the proposed elephant reserve not be included in the upcoming auction.”
Bittu Sahgal, founder ff Sanctuary Nature Foundations, said: “The government and policy makers need to recognize that forests, wetlands, grasslands and mangroves are infrastructures, not impediments to infrastructure.”


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”