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Environment ministry pulled up for poor monitoring of mining firms

New Delhi, Oct 29, 2012, (IANS) 12:24 IST
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A parliamentary committee has pulled up the environment ministry and directed it to properly monitor green clearances given to coal mining firms, particularly in states like Goa, ministry officials said.

The 30-member committee, with multi-party representation from the Lok Sabha, also looked into the adverse impact of mining on the health of people living in the area.

Some members of the committee that IANS spoke to confirmed the panel met but declined to divulge details, stating that they are "confidential".

The committee will submit its report to the Lok Sabha.

According to sources, the Estimates Committee, headed by South Goa MP Francisco Sardinha of the ruling Congress, met with officials of the environment and mines ministries in the second week on October to discuss issues arising out of mining companies violating environmental laws.

Some of the issues hotly debated during the meeting were the environmental impact of mining, mine reclamation, soil degradation, water contamination and the status of industries implementing green conditions, sources told IANS.

"The committee has asked us for increased monitoring and implementation of conditions being imposed on project proponents while according environment and forest clearance to them," a senior green ministry official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The official, in the same breath, admitted that the ministry has never enquired from the mines counterpart about mine reclamation even though this is an integral part of the extraction process.

"After the mines are considered unproductive, most of them are left without any thought about reclamation. We have never asked for any report on the status of mines' reclamation from other government departments or companies but we are thinking of doing it now," the official said.

Reclamation of mines is the process of restoring land that has been mined to a natural or economically usable purpose.

The meeting of the committee gains significance as the environment ministry has been at loggerheads with all sectors related to infrastructure development like mining, the power sector and the highway sector over the issue of environment protection.

The environment ministry has been repeatedly blamed by the power sector and industry for holding up clearances to coal mines and other projects in dense forest areas and near-critical wildlife habitats.

Only last month, the ministry had suspended the green clearance given to 93 mines in Goa on account of companies flouting the law.

Also, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, in a recent letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposed setting up of a National Investment Board - which intends to fast-track major infrastructure projects - saying environmental clearances had been granted to 181 coal mines with a total capacity of 83 million tonnes per annum during the 11th Plan period (2007-12) - doubling India's current capacity.

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an NGO working on environment issues, last year showed that the environment ministry had given out an unprecedented number of clearances of coal blocks for mining in the last five years.

The study, based on official data, found that environmental clearances for 217,794 MW of thermal power had been given during the 11th Plan (2007-2012) as compared to only 53,000 MW that actually got commissioned during the period.

The CSE had said Coal India Limited (CIL), which produces around 90 percent of India's coal, has under its control over 200,000 hectares of mine lease area, which includes 55,000 of forest area.

States like Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are rich in coal deposits.

"The estimated coal reserves with CIL are 64 billion tonnes but it is currently producing only around 500 million tonnes. Who is responsible for the shortage of coal when CIL is already sitting on reserves, which it is not mining?" the CSE had asked.

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