Ayaskant Das

  • Outrage as Modi government revisits quashed coal-mine approval at Gare Pelma II

    Community campaigners fear that a review of a controversial coal project in central-eastern India will overturn a previous ruling that prevented the mine from proceeding. Approval for the proposed coal mine, known as Gare Pelma II, was quashed in January 2024 when India’s primary environmental court said that locals, including tribal people, had been sidelined during a mandatory consultation process. Despite the ruling, it appears that a committee appointed by the Modi government is reviewing the approval process for the coal project, and may try to clear it of previous irregularities, enabling the coal mine to proceed. This is a recipe for the issue to end up back in the courts.

    Key details of the project:

    • Name: Gare Pelma II
    • Owned by: Mahagenco
    • Adani subsidiary (mine developer and operator): Gare Pelma II Collieries Private Limited 
    • Location: Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India 
    • Coal reserves: 1059.29 million tonnes 
    • Planned output per annum: 23.6 million tonnes per annum
    • Cost: US $902 million 
    • Current status: Environmental approval overturned 
    • Area of impact: 14 villages, farmland, forest, water resources and up to 2245 families

    In January 2024, India’s primary environmental court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), quashed the environmental approval for the Gare Pelma II coal project because there had been inadequate consultation with the local community. The tribunal also found that health risks to local communities from the cumulative environmental impact of the project had not been properly assessed. The area in which the project lies has already been detrimentally impacted by large-scale pollution from existing mines and coal-power plants. The project involves an investment of over US $900 million.

    Local people express their opposition to the Gare Pelma coal-mining project of Adani.Now, the Modi government has directed a hand-picked committee to review the rejected approval, rather than to insist that Adani and the owner of the coal deposit go back to square one. Local people are concerned that the same approval process that was found wanting by the NGT will be repeated in a different forum, but one in which a favorable result for Adani is anticipated. This new process was set in train after Mahagenco, the public-sector enterprise that owns Gare Pelma II, sought remedy from the Modi government.

    Subsequently, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), a body appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’), has undertaken a review of the project’s rejected environmental approval.

    After the NGT overturned the mine’s environmental approval, Mahagenco appealed the decision in India’s apex court, the Supreme Court, but withdrew the case in March 2024, saying it would seek ‘other remedies’. After Mahagenco took the matter to the Modi government, the EAC began a fresh evaluation of the flawed public-consultation process and formed a sub-committee to conduct a visit to the site.

    ‘Why is the EAC re-evaluating what the Green Tribunal has already adjudicated?’ asked Rinchin, who was amongst the four petitioners to the NGT.

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  • The harsh life at the coal face of Adani’s Talabira mine

    Adani’s coal mine near the village of Talabira has displaced thousands of people. Most have chosen not to live in the soulless re-settlement colony, which is devoid of greenery and basic amenities. People in nearby villages have watched this with dismay because their houses and farms will be the next to get swallowed up by the expanding mine. Ayaskant Das is one of the few journalists to have visited Talabira to investigate the desperate situation of people in the front line of Adani’s coal-mining juggernaut. Here is his exclusive report.

    Basic facts and figures

    • Name of project: Talabira II & III Opencast Coal Mining Project
    • Location: Sambalpur and Jharsuguda, Odisha, India
    • Name of owner: NLC India Limited (a public-sector enterprise)
    • Mine Developer & Operator: Talabira (Odisha) Mining Private Limited (an Adani Group subsidiary)
    • Coal reserves: 589.21 million tons
    • Peak output: 23 million tons per annum
    • Villages, population affected: 5 villages (Rampur, Malda, Patrapali, Talabira, Khinda); 2973 families
    • Cost: Rs 2401 crore (US $288 million)
    • Current status: Operational and expanding as of December 2019

    As the sun blazes mercilessly from a cloudless sky on an April morning, Talabira’s residents wake up to another hot day. Talabira is a village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. The village landscape, once verdant but now pock-marked by open-cast coal mining, is dominated by the presence of the multibillion-dollar Adani conglomerate.

    Forewarned by my sources about the heat wave, we arrive at Talabira around 8 o’clock in the morning. As we meander through dense Sal forests towards the village along a winding road, signs of life and activity begin to emerge. Along the roadside, we encounter men laboriously pushing bicycles burdened with hefty blocks of coal. These pilfered loads will be sold to small roadside eateries, which serve as pit stops for truck drivers. The sight vividly portrays the relentless struggle for survival here, where individuals strive to piece together a livelihood from whatever they can find.

    A scavenger pushes a bicycle overloaded with coal. Image Ayaskant Das

    In the bustling marketplace of Khinda, a village surrounded by the debris left by coal mining, a semblance of daily life persists. Amidst the chaos, vegetable vendors meticulously arrange their produce on tarpaulins spread out by the road, ready to engage in the day’s commerce. Numerous mahua trees, the flower of which is used to brew a potent local brew, stand out in the stark landscape. The heady aroma of the mahua flowers, which used to pervade the still summer air of Talabira until around two years ago, is now conspicuous by its absence. The trees have stopped flowering, one of the many adverse impacts of the Adani Group’s Talabira II & III coal-mine. (AdaniWatch has previously reported on Adani’s plans for Talabira II and III).

    A market stall in the doomed village of Khinda, earmarked for demolition to make way for an expanded Adani-operated coal mine. Image Ayaskant Das

    A central-government public-sector undertaking in India, NLC India Limited, which owns Talabira II & III, has outsourced the mining operations to an Adani-owned subsidiary company, Talabira (Odisha) Mining Private Limited. The block covers 1167 hectares of the coalfields of the Ib valley, in the Sambalpur and Jharsuguda districts of Odisha. It contains 589 million tons of underground coal reserves. The mine became operational in December 2019, with the first coal extracted in April 2020, but is yet to occupy its full planned extent. The Adani Group also owns the adjoining Talabira I coal block, whose mine is disused on the outskirts of Khinda.

    A village temple awaits demolition for the Adani-operated Talabira coal mine. Image Ayaskant Das

    After an arduous hour-long journey through rough terrain on a newly constructed road paved with stone chips within the mining lease, we arrive at Malda, a village perched above its surroundings. Malda faces obliteration to make way for the new coal mine. It is in Jharsuguda district. It is among many settlements awaiting demolition. Mining elsewhere is already at full throttle. The project has wiped out inter-district boundaries. We are oblivious to having crossed into Jharsuguda from Sambalpur.

    A newly constructed road carves its way through woodlands en route to Adani's Talabira coal-mining project. Image Ayaskant Das

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  • High-level reactions to plight of Bijahan tribals facing coal mining

    Two distinguished observers have expressed concern about the manner in which an Adani coal project in eastern India is being progressed. Both were responding to AdaniWatch’s exclusive story about the Bijahan coal project published last week. A former senior public servant has questioned the approval processes for the proposed coal mine, saying that it appears that the legal rights of the area’s indigenous inhabitants have not been adequately addressed. And a former coal-company director has argued that the Bijahan coal project could cast a bad light on India’s coal-mining sector more generally, with potential negative impacts on the country’s energy security.

    Basic facts and figures

    • Name of project: Bijahan coal-mining project
    • Location: Hemgir, Sundargarh
    • Name of owner: Mahanadi Mines & Minerals Private Limited (an Adani Group subsidiary)
    • Coal reserves: 327 million tons
    • Peak output: 5.26 million tons per annum
    • Villages, population affected: 4 villages affected (detailed R&R study not yet conducted)
    • Cost: Rs 2600 crore (US $312 million)
    • Current status: Awaiting land acquisition, environmental clearance process underway.

    The threatened village of Bijahan occurs in a forested setting, inhabited by tribal people. Image Ayaskant Das

    A news report on an Adani coal project in the eastern Indian state of Odisha published by AdaniWatch has generated a response from a coal-industry expert and a former high-level public servant. These influential observers have voiced robust concern about the future of the tribal people in whose ancestral forests the project is planned to occur.

    The story described the drastic impacts of the Bijahan coal-mining project on tribal people who live in this forested precinct. Forests will be destroyed, villages obliterated and traditional livelihoods ruined. The people have seen what has happened with other coal projects in the district and know that compensation arrangements for them will be inadequate. They know that their lives will be turned upside down.

    The people of Bijahan have seen the impacts of other coal mines so have challenged aspects of the approval process for Adani's Bijahan coal project in the courts. Image Ayaskant Das

    At least two distinguished observers have expressed their concerns about the way the project has been treated, given that the area concerned is inhabited by people whose land rights are explicitly recognised in Indian law and the constitution.

    One former bureaucrat, EAS Sarma, with a distinguished career spanning several decades in governance and policy formulation, has written to the Modi government raising serious concerns about the project’s impact on local tribal communities. In the letter, dated 24 May 2024 and emailed to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Sarma addressed an alleged lack of consultation with the ministry before the coal block was allotted the Adani Group subsidiary.

    Forests, farmlands and villages in the Bijahan area are threatened by Adani's coal project.

    Sarma pointed out that the region earmarked for the project falls within an area notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, owing to its tribal population, therefore necessitating meticulous consideration of the interests of local communities before projects are approved.

    ‘It appears from news reports that the local Adivasis (tribal communities) feel disturbed as their fears and concerns have not been taken into account and their view on mining not genuinely considered before the Centre (government) and Odisha government unilaterally decided to start coal mining that is going to disrupt their lives,’ Sarma wrote.

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  • Adani awarded colossal Indian coal deposit despite low bid

    In March 2024, it was announced that a colossal coal block in central India was awarded to an Adani company. An earlier round of auctions for Mara II Mahan had attracted only one bidder, the Adani company, so no allocation was made. Concerns were then expressed that the Modi government might allocate the block to an Adani company in a second round even if no other bidders emerged. In the second round of the auction, the other bidder was a company mostly associated with mining iron ore and which is closely connected to a minister in the Indian government. Adani won the bidding.

    At a glance:

    Name of the coal block: Mara II Mahan

    Reserves: 955.96 million tons

    Coalfield: Singrauli coalfields

    Location: Singrauli district, Madhya Pradesh

    Type of mining: Underground

    Owner: Mahan Energen Limited, an Adani Group subsidiary

    Nearby coal-power plant: Adani’s Mahan / Bandhaura plant

    Status: Approval process not begun

    In the most recent round of auctions of coal blocks in India, the Adani Group won the biggest block by offering the government the lowest share of revenue of any of the successful bidders in the round.  It is to be expected that the higher the share of revenue proposed to go to the government, the more likely the bid is to succeed. The Adani Group outbid the only other competitor, a company linked to India’s Railway Minister, Ashwini Kumar Vaishnaw, to win the Mara II Mahan block. Vaishnaw’s background as a bureaucrat, corporate executive and, since 2019, a politician with the ruling BJP, has been described in a NewsClick story.

    Mara II Mahan is important to the Adani Group because of its mammoth reserves (it contains nearly a billion tons of coal) and its proximity to other Adani-controlled coal blocks such as Dhirauli, Gondbahera Ujheni East and Gondbahera Ujheni. These will all serve as captive mines for the Mahan coal-power plant owned by the Adani Group’s subsidiary Mahan Energen Limited.

    Adani's Mahan coal-power plant (otherwise known as the Bandhaura or Singrauli power plant) - on the doorstep of giant coal deposits recently acquired by Adani.

    (Note that the Mahan power plant has previously been referred to by AdaniWatch as the Bandhaura power plant, after the village closest to it. It is referred to on Adani Power’s website as the Singrauli power plant, after the Singrauli coalfields. However, a recent presentation to investors by Adani refers to the plant and its proposed expansions under the name ‘Mahan’. For consistency, the power plant is referred to in this story as the Mahan plant.)

    In an earlier auction of coal blocks, apprehensions had been brewing over whether Mara II Mahan would go to the Adani Group even if Adani was the only bidder. In articles published by the Reporters’ Collective and AdaniWatch last year, it was highlighted how an expert panel comprising top bureaucrats of the Modi government was allocating coal blocks that had failed to receive more than one bid each after two rounds of bidding. The articles explained how 11 coal deposits had been allocated to single bidders with the approval of an expert panel called the Empowered Committee of Secretaries (ECoS). These 11 mines included Gondbahera Ujheni East, which was allocated by the ECoS to its only bidder, an Adani Group subsidiary called MP Natural Resources Private Limited.

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  • Adani Bijahan coal project suffers setback in court

    An Adani company has received a setback from a state court in India regarding development of a huge coal mine. The High Court of Odisha has sent the Adani company and the state government back to the drawing board regarding mandatory consultations with tribal villagers to be ousted from their lands by the Bijahan mine. Village meetings, a mandatory part of the approval process, had been rushed through in a single day by local authorities, allegedly contravening legal requirements. The court’s order is a brief reprieve for people whose land, homes and livelihoods are threatened.

    Basic facts and figures:

    • Name of project: Bijahan coal mining project
    • Location: Sundargarh, state of Odisha, India
    • Name of Adani subsidiary: Mahanadi Mines & Minerals Private Limited
    • Coal reserves: 327 million tons
    • Peak output: 5.26 million tons per annum
    • People affected: 4 villages affected (detailed study not yet conducted)
    • Cost: Rs 2600 crore (US $313 million)
    • Current status: Awaiting approval

    The locations of four of the villages to be impacted by Adani's Bijahan coal mine.

    The government of the eastern Indian state of Odisha allegedly rushed through public consultations with tribal communities to fast-track a proposed new coal mine belonging to the Adani Group, according to a court petition. Consultative meetings with project-affected communities in tribal-dominated villages, which should have been conducted only after a notice period of 15 days, were allegedly held at just a day’s notice!

    Repairs underway in a traditional village precinct the Bijahan area. Local people have no idea which houses in the four villages will be demolished to make way for the Adani coal mine.

    The high court of Odisha has ordered the state government, headed by chief minister Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) regional political party, to address the complaints of communities that allege that public consultations were not conducted as per law. The government has been directed by the court to resolve the grievances within a period of three months.

    The complaints pertain to the Bijahan coal mine which is proposed by Adani Group in Odisha’s Sundargarh, a district which is administered and controlled by the government through special provisions owing to the preponderance of tribal people within it. An Adani Group subsidiary, Mahanadi Mines & Minerals Private Limited, which owns the Bijahan block, has proposed a 5.26 million tons per annum (MTPA) mining project at a huge cost of over Rs 2600 crore (US $313 million). The block, a part of the IB coalfields of east-central India, contains over 327 million tons of reserves.

    Newspaper clipping from the Bhubaneswar Statesman, 2 December 2023.

    A vast tract of forest upon which the tribal communities are dependent for water resources, small-scale forest products and livelihoods will be cleared for the project. Though the Odisha government claims that public consultations were held through Gram Sabhas (councils comprising the adult population of a village), many project-affected people do not seem to know when the meetings were conducted.

    ‘We are undecided as to whether we would part with our homesteads, agricultural land and forests for the mining project,’ said Rajendra Naik of Sundargarh’s Hemgir tehsil (an administrative unit) where the project is proposed.

    ‘The state government has not yet convened Gram Sabha meetings to obtain the consent of local population in the project-affected villages.’

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  • Adani’s Dhirauli coal mine: government body concerned about plan to destroy forests

    The Adani Group’s massive Dhirauli coal-mining project in central India has received most of the government approvals necessary for the mine to proceed. However, a government expert body has raised concerns over the mine’s impact on forests and wildlife. The forest earmarked for clearing is equivalent to over 2600 football fields and is part of an elephant corridor near a wildlife sanctuary. Thousands of forest-dependent indigenous subsistence farmers rely on these forests for water and small-scale forest products.

    Basic facts and figures

    Coal block: Dhirauli

    Owner: Stratatech Mineral Resources Private Limited (Adani Group subsidiary)

    Coalfield: Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh

    Coal reserves: 586.39 million tons

    Total geological area: 2672 hectares

    Forest area: 1398 hectares

    Proposed capacity of mine: 6.5 million tons per annum

    Project cost: Rs 2800 crore (US $340 million)

    The Dhirauli coal block in the Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh belongs to an Adani Group subsidiary company. For the mine to proceed, the company requires government approvals covering a range of topics that include mining, the environment, clearing of forest and the diversion of a major stream. Despite serious concerns expressed by various government bodies, the Dhirauli coal project is moving towards full approval.

    In May 2023, the Modi government recommended environmental approval for the proposed mine, leaving the project still requiring approval for its impact on forests.

    Status of approvals required:

    • Mining plan (Ministry of Coal, central government) – granted.
    • Environment approval (Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, central government) – granted.
    • Clearing of forest – approved by the Madhya Pradesh state government; awaiting approval by the central government, which has raised queries.

    An inhabited part of the forest in the Dhirauli forest area.Forests approval and impacts on forest-dependent communities

    When the Modi government granted approval for the Dhirauli coal project, a separate application by the Adani company to clear 1436.19 hectares of forest land for the mine was pending with the Madhya Pradesh government. Government records show that the project proponent was unable to identify an equivalent parcel of forest land for compensatory afforestation. The state government refused to grant clearance for the proposed loss of forest as the proponent had identified only 217.469 hectares of non-forest land – more than 700 kms away in the Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh – for compensatory afforestation. The Adani Group then submitted a fresh proposal in June 2023 seeking approval for clearing 1397.54 hectares of forest land.

    'Our relationship with the trees and wildlife of these forests is fundamental.’ Lanka Baiga and his children.

    A site inspection report by the forest department of Madhya Pradesh is dated 21 November 2023. It was finalised four days after the legislative assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh. A relatively new face in Madhya Pradesh politics, Mohan Yadav, was named as the new chief minister of the state after the BJP recorded a comfortable win over the Congress in results that were declared on 3 December. Yadav had started out in politics as a member of the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, before joining mainstream politics. The BJP’s choice of him as chief minister in place of his predecessor, a far more experienced politician, raised many eyebrows. Congress supporters dubbed Yadav a rubber stamp of the BJP government at the centre.

    There was no looking back for Adani’s Dhirauli mine after the new government was sworn in. The Madhya Pradesh government approved the recommendations of the forest department and sent the mine application to the Modi government for approval. Thereafter, the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, in a letter dated 2 February 2024, pointed to various ‘shortcomings’ regarding the company’s proposed means of addressing the impact of the proposed mine on forests and ecology. On 11 March 2024, the project proponent responded to the Madhya Pradesh forest department on the issues pertaining to the proximity of Dhirauli to the wildlife sanctuary and its location within an elephant corridor.

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  • Why villagers opposing Adani coal mine had a big win in court

    In January 2024, India’s top environmental court overturned approval for the Gare Pelma II coal mine. Here, Ayaskant Das describes why the court arrived at this judgment, citing failed public consultation, health risks and cumulative environmental impacts. The National Green Tribunal says that government officials conducting a public hearing about the project’s impacts ‘colluded’ with officials of the proponent to exclude people opposing the project, while admitting a select group of supporters. The Tribunal said that the affected people were deprived of a ‘fair, impartial, unbiased and valid public hearing’. An Adani Group company is the developer and would-be operator of the mine.

    Key details of the project:

    • Name: Gare Pelma II
    • Owned by: Mahagenco
    • Adani subsidiary (mine developer and operator): Gare Pelma II Collieries Private Limited 
    • Location: Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India
    • Coal reserves: 29 million tons
    • Planned output per annum: 23.6 million tonnes per annum
    • Cost: US $902 million
    • Current status: Environmental approval overturned
    • Area of impact: 14 villages, farmland, forest, water resources and up to 2245 families

    In a major setback for the Adani Group, the environmental approval for a huge coal mine that it proposes to operate in central India has been nullified by the country’s environmental court, the National Green Tribunal (‘the Tribunal’). Approval for the US $902-million Gare Pelma II project had been granted by the Modi government despite insufficient public consultation and without a proper analysis of its wider impact on the physical health of local communities.

    The Tribunal’s judgment has been challenged by the project proponent in India’s apex court, the Supreme Court.

    The coal block, with total coal reserves of 1050.29 million tons (MT) is in Raigarh district, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, an area largely populated by tribal communities. Local people interviewed by this correspondent during a visit to the area in November 2023 expressed extreme resentment over the manner in which Chhattisgarh’s erstwhile Congress government had rushed through the project’s public hearing.

    A reprieve: fertile fields threatened by Adani's proposed Gare Pelma II coal mine in central India.An Adani Group subsidiary, Gare Pelma II Collieries Private Limited, is the project’s MDO (mine developer and operator), which is a system of contractual mining pioneered by the business conglomerate. The coal block belongs to Mahagenco, a public-sector power company belonging to the government of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. In accordance with the judgment issued by a Tribunal bench comprising judicial member Sudhir Agarwal and expert member Afroz Ahmad, the project proponent will now have to seek a new environmental approval after conducting a fresh public hearing.

    ‘… we find that in the present case, public hearing has not been conducted in accordance with law, satisfying the words and spirit of the requirement of public consultation and proceedings are such so as to deprive the affected people fair, impartial, unbiased and valid public hearing/public consultation,’ said the Tribunal in a 237-page judgment dated 15 January 2024.

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  • Green light for Adani's Gondkhairi coal mine despite water fears

    Despite a public outcry against the Gondkhairi coal mine proposed by the Adani Group in central India, the Modi government has recommended environmental approval for the project. Local communities anticipate water shortages resulting from the underground mine and fear adverse impacts on farming. Protesting farmers disrupted a public hearing into the project in July last year, forcing government authorities to terminate the meeting halfway through. The region in which the mining lease occurs is already experiencing a decline in water resources.

    Key details:

    • Adani subsidiary: Adani Power Maharashtra Limited
    • Location: Gondkhairi, Nagpur, Maharashtra
    • Coal reserves: 98.717 million tons
    • Planned output per annum: 3 million tons per annum (peak output)
    • Cost: Rs 1303 crores (US $156 million)
    • Current status: Under development

    'These orchards will completely perish if water availability suffers.' A citrus orchard in the area of the Adani Group's proposed Gondkhairi coal mine.

    The 3-million-ton-per-annum (MTPA) Gondkhairi coal project is proposed in Vidarbha, a drought-prone region in the state of Maharashtra, which is known for agricultural distress and a disproportionate number of suicides by farmers. According to data presented by Maharashtra government in the legislative assembly (lower house of elected representatives in the state) 2366 farmers committed suicide across the state in the first ten months (January-October) of the year 2023. The highest number of suicides were reported from the Vidarbha region with 257 farmers killing themselves in the Nagpur administrative division alone, within which the proposed coal project is located.

    The mining lease of the Adani Group covers 862 hectares in an area where local communities are mostly dependent on agriculture. Of this lease area, 13.89 hectares are covered by water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs, of which there are at least eight in and around the mining lease. These meet many of the water needs of the farm-dependent population.

    The project proponent, the Adani Group subsidiary Adani Power Maharashtra Limited, has promised that, for the purposes of water conservation, it will not carry out underground mining directly beneath these bodies of water and has proposed a plan for rejuvenating them. However, local communities believe the network of natural underground aquifers will be degraded by mining, leading to further drying of the local environment and a reduction in agricultural productivity.

     

    Suraburdi Lake, one of several water bodies in the Gondkhairi area whose hydrological integrity could be adversely affected by the Adani Group's proposed coal mine.

    ‘Most agricultural activities in the region are dependent on groundwater, which is accessed through bore wells’, Abhay Raut, an office-bearer of a local agricultural marketing committee, told this correspondent. ‘Existing wells have dried up in several villages, forcing local communities to depend entirely on groundwater even for their drinking water.

    ‘Excessive dependence on groundwater has also resulted in quick drying up of borewells. In many villages, Gram Panchayats (village-level self-governing councils) are forced to undertake new borewell projects every year with funds from the government to meet water requirements. This situation will be aggravated if the mining activities degrade underground water resources.’

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