Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is a an evergreen rainforest located in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts in Assam, covering an area of 111.19 square kilometres. It is part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve established in 2003 under Project Elephant. Counted among the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world, Dehing Patkai is often called the Amazon of the East. In April 2020, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex advisory body on matters related to conservation and wildlife, approved a proposal from North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of Coal India Limited (CIL), to carry out opencast coal mining in 57.20 hectares of forestland at the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest, which is part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. The decision was taken at the 57th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the NBWL, chaired by Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on April 17, 2020, through videoconferencing. The Standing Committee considered 31 proposals altogether, 16 of which related to infrastructure projects. All 16 proposals were approved. The decision of NBWL to rush through environmental clearances while the country was reeling under the COVID19 pandemic received criticism from several quarters. Many doubted whether environmental impact assessments received enough importance in the decisionmaking process. Outraged at the nod for coal mining at Dehing Patkai, several environmentalists, activists, student bodies, artists and others in the state launched a dynamic online protest using thoughtful artworks, slogans, videos and online signature campaigns while also making hashtags like #SaveDehingPatkai and #IAmDehingPatkai trend on several online platforms. All of them have demanded a complete ban on opencast coal mining, calling it detrimental to the ecological balance of the wildlife sanctuary. It is reported that mining was initially restricted to CIL, but over the last few years, as pointed out by ornithologist Anwaruddin Chowdhury, illegal mining in the protected area has increased rapidly. Trinayan Gogoi, founder of the nonprofit Green Bud Society, told the media that attacks on human settlements by elephants have resulted from coal mining and tree felling which have shrunk the area reserved for the mammal. It has also been reported that CIL had been carrying out mining operations at Dehing Patkai even though its lease, which NEC had obtained for 30 years, had expired in 2003. This means that CIL has been mining in the area violating the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980. In 2012, CIL had sought a clearance of 98.59 hectares, which included a postfacto approval from 2003 to 2013. The request, however, was rejected. It was only in 2019 that the Centre gave StageI clearance to CIL for opencast mining on 57.20 hectares, with 28 conditions, including fines and enquiries against personnel responsible for the violation of the FCA. The Assam Forest Department imposed a penalty of INR 43.25 crore on CIL for carrying out illegal mining activities between 2003 and 2019. On June 4, 2020, the Gauhati High Court took suo moto cognizance of allegations over coal mining in the Dehing Patkai forest and issued notices to the Centre, state government, CIL and other stakeholders after two consecutive public interest litigations (PILs) were filed in the high court. The PILs denounced CIL for obtaining clearance by furnishing inaccurate information. In the face of mounting evidence and political pressure, the 58th Standing Committee of NBWL ordered a suspension on all mining activity in Dehing Patkai from July 2020 until further notice. Meanwhile, the Assam government announced in July that year that Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary would be upgraded to a National Park. The preliminary notification regarding the same was issued in December 2020. Responding to the allegations over coal mining, the state had formed a oneman inquiry commission on July 18, 2020, to investigate all such allegations since 2003. The report is yet to be made public.
Demand/Contention of the Affected Community
Opposition against environmental degradation
Government Bodies Involved in the Conflict:
National Board for Wildlife; Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; Department of Environment & Forests, Government of Assam; Ministry of Mines
Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:
Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:
Bharatiya Janata Party (Assam unit), Indian National Congress (Assam unit), Assam Environmental NGO Forum
Legislations Involved in the Conflict:
Forest and Scheduled Area Governance Laws, Central/State Government Policy, Environmental Laws
Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:
Violation of environmental laws
Name(s) of Court(s)
Gauhati High Court
PIL (Suo Moto) 3/2020
Nature of Protest
Advocacy (for inclusion in courts), Artistic and creative actions (Theatre, Music, Murals, etc), Campaigns (Grassroots organisations/press releases/media), Media based activism/alternative media , Public campaign
Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:
Reported Details of the Violation:
Date of Violation
Location of Violation
Has the Conflict Ended?
When did it end?
Why did the conflict end?