The decision was taken here by the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) headed by Prime Minister to find a solution that could keep a balance between exploitation of coal reserves and protection of forest land.
“I thoroughly explained the issue before the CCI. Prime Minister said this was a very serious and sensitive issue. The Cabinet will take further decision in this regard on the basis of the GoM recommendations,” Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said at a press conference here.
Last year, Union Ministry of Forest and Environment had defined ‘no-go’ areas for mining as those that have over 30 per cent gross forest cover or over 10 per cent weighted forest cover. It also denied permission to mine from such blocks. This brought 206 coal blocks under the ‘no-go’ mining area category that has a production potential of 660 million tonnes (MT) per annum.
The coal ministry was pressing hard for environment clearance for mining in these areas but the forest ministry remained firm on its stand of not giving permission to mine in ‘no-go’ areas, prompting the coal ministry to take the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The demand of coal is continuously rising. We had a lot of pressure to increase the coal production. That’s why we circulated the note that was taken up by the Cabinet on today (Thursday),” he said.
Jaiswal said his ministry did not want mining permission in the areas where forest was dense or where wildlife could be affected. “We also understand that there should not be any mining activity in about 10 per cent of the total ‘no-go’ area (categorised by the Environment and Forest Ministry),” he said. “But there is no reason why should we not get permission to mine in rest of the blocks,” he wondered.
Jaiswal underlined that the country faced a shortfall of 83 MT coal this fiscal, which was set to go up further to 200 MT by 2013-14. “Last year, we enhanced the production of coal India by 7 per cent. This year, we expected to take it to 12 per cent keeping the needs in mind. But, I don’t think we will be able to increase the production because of the present circumstances,” he said.
Allaying fears of the forest ministry on ecological degradation, Jaiswal offered to return the forest land after completion of mining with 2.5 per cent more afforestation. He also suggested that government could make a stringent law like Environment Protection Act to ensure that officers and mining lease owners returned the forest land on time.