Ministries spar over mining in forest areas

Coal ministry wants change in policy of defining go and no-go areas

 The Coal Ministry wants a change in the Environment Ministry’s current policy of defining the coal-rich forests as “go” and “no-go” areas.

As much as 35 per cent areas in nine top coal fields are “no-go” areas where mining cannot be allowed at any cost. The remaining 65 per cent is the “go” area where projects could be considered.

This is not acceptable to several chief ministers as well as Union coal and power ministers who approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a review. But, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is game only for a slight concession.

The Environment Ministry is ready to consider an increase of 5 per cent in the coal mine areas in forest-covered segments of nine coalfields in the central and eastern India on account of the national developmental needs. However, the Coal Ministry is not satisfied with this move.

The nine coal fields are North Karanpura and West Bokaro (Jharkhand), IB Valley(Orissa and Chhattisgarh) Singaurali (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), Talcher (Orissa), Wardha (Maharashtra), Mandirgarh and Hasdeo-Arand (Chhattisgarh) and Shoagpur (Chhattisgarh and MP).

The Coal Ministry has made it clear that if the current definition of “go” and “no-go” are to be adhered to, then it would be the end of the ambitious power capacity addition programme as it would put more than 600 million tonnes of coal out of bounds every year. The problem was most critical in north Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand coal field located inside pristine forests.

If Hasdeo Arand becomes a “no-go” area, it may impact 30 odd mining licence given to companies like Prakash Industries, Hindustan Zinc, Ultratech and Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mining.

State agencies like the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board, Madhya Pradesh State Mining Corporation and Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam will also suffer. Captive blocks in Hasdeo was allocated between 2003 and 2007 and some work was done. But Ramesh is now firm on not allowing any coal mining here.

The minister uploaded forest maps of all the nine mines on the ministry website, making it absolutely clear that Hasdeo Arnad is greener than the other eight.

While Ramesh said the mine is housed inside an “unbroken forest”, the PMO feels that it cannot be described as unbroken as these areas are surrounded by highways, irrigation projects and other economic activities.

The PMO has asked the Environment Ministry to review the Hasdeo coal blocks as it includes more than 5 billion tonnes of coal reserves. The potential of 18 allocated blocks are estimated to be 120 million tonnes per annum, which could support thermal power generation capacity of 20,000 MW.

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