Govt may relax environment clearance norms for coal projects

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is believed to have assured Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal that necessary changes in the existing regulations regarding public hearing for grant of environment clearances would be made. "Environment Minister assured that necessary amendment to existing instructions would be issued by MoEF stating that no public hearing would be required for expansion projects of coal for extending environmental clearances as long as the proposed expansion capacity is within 25 per cent of the originally approved capacity," a top government source told reporters. However, it could not be confirmed with the Environment Ministry.

Public hearing for environment clearance involves a meeting of all stakeholders, including villagers of the concerned area, district administration, company and Ministry representatives to chalk out a strategy for minimising the damage to environment and allay fears in this regard. The move will also help in boosting the country's annual coal production and bridging the demand-supply gap in the country, pegged at about 70 million tonnes for the current fiscal. Consuming firms like NTPC have rued about the short-supply of coal hurting their production targets.

Coal India Limited (CIL), India's largest coal firm, with over 80 per cent market share, meets the fuel needs of almost all coal consuming companies from sectors like power and steel. Besides CIL, such changes in regulatory norms would also help owners of captive coal reserves like SAIL and Tata Steel to expand their mineral production capacities. Problems in securing environment clearances coupled with other factors have stalled as many as 100 CIL projects, thus hitting its future production targets.

The Standing Committee on Coal and Steel has also expressed concern over the inordinate delays in forest and environmental clearances besides land acquisition hurting expansion projects in the coal sector. Coal India is targeting to produce 435 million tonnes of coal in this financial year. It plans to take up its annual production capacity to 520 million tonnes by the 2011-12, the terminal year of the current plan period (2007-12). However, the projected coal demand will rise to about 731 million tonnes by that time.

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