The additional areas will have underground coal mines rather than the ecologically damaging open-cast ones. These were the areas where some mining activities were going on in the past.
The MoEF had earlier approved coal mining only in 3.45 lakh hectare forest area, called the “go area”. This is close to 65 per cent of the total field areas. The remaining 35 per cent was a “no go” area where mining could not be allowed for environmental reasons.
However, having a mine in a “go area” does not mean automatic sanction. It merely allows the project proponent to put forward his application to the MoEF, seeking approval.
Even though Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh claimed his cabinet colleague and Coal Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal is onboard with the decision, Jaiswal opposed it demanding 4.5 lakh hectare forest area for coal mining.
Ramesh also came under pressure from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chauhan who complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against Ramesh for not allowing coal mining in many areas, jeopardising the future of sundry power projects. One such field was Hasdeo-Arand in Chhattishgarh.
With pressure mounting, the MoEF reviewed eight coalfields taking a sub-cluster approach and looking for those areas in forests that had already been opened for coal mining.
However, the MoEF is strongly against mining in Hasdeo–in Korwa and Sarguja districts of Chhattishgarh–as the entire area is pristine forest. That is why Hasdeo has been left out while sanctioning additional mining areas.
India’s coal demand is set to rise as the the country will be adding 50,758 MW capacity during the 11th Plan, out of which 15,208 MW has already been installed. The new projects include the five ultra-mega power plants as well.
The 12th Plan targets are equally ambitious, as the Union Power Ministry has worked out a scheme to add another 78,700 MW in the next Plan out of which more than 50,000 MW will be thermal.