The coal ministry argued that Coal India Limited would not be able to increase mining capacity without removal of restrictions on expansion of existing coal mines.
The biggest stumbling block cited was environment ministry’s April 2010 circular exempting public hearing for expansion of the existing mining projects. Added conditions included use of better technology for mining, no additional deployment of manpower, equipment and water.
Now the ministry has removed these tough conditions and replaced it with just one condition that expansion would be subject to ceiling of two million tonnes per year where additional production was proposed to be transported by road and five million tonnes in case of mines connected by railways.
However, for expansion of existing projects the coal companies will have to seek permission of the expert appraisal committee (EAC) — mandated to consider environmental impact of the projects. The revised order also gives power to the EAC to allow expansion of projects even in critically polluted areas, where environment management plan was being implemented. In such cases, the EAC will have power to stipulate additional conditions in the approval given for mining.
With this, the environment ministry has met a long standing demand of the coal mining sector, even though coal companies have not improved their record on protecting the environment.