Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is expected to face a lot of heat in Monday’s Group of Minister’s meeting as two infrastructure ministries – coal and power – have come up with a joint proposal seeking clearance to projects in dense forests, rejected by environment ministry.
The projects are primarily in Hasdeo-Anand coal field in Chhattisgarh, where atleast 17 coal blocks fall in the forest areas described as no go for any mining activity.
The government had formulated go no-go policy for coal mining in forest areas clearly demarcating areas where mining can be allowed.
But, now the coal ministry wants mining permission in debarred areas. "The ministry of coal has been consistently taking the stand that all the blocks in Hasdeo-Arand coalfields should be given forest clearance, may be even with more stringent conditions," a note for Monday’s GoM headed by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee says.
The GoM in its four meetings have discussed the impact go no-go policy on mining and decided to consider the projects where environment ministry refuses to grant clearance. Of the eight coal blocks under this category former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had cleared some.
One project, which was rejected Morga-II coal block, is expected to be discussed at the GoM meeting along with clearance for 17 coal blocks in dense forests of Hasdeo-Arand.
Another issue which is expected to be discussed at the GoM would be the planning commission’s suggestion that forest clearance of up to 50 hectares should be given by the state governments.
Although environment ministry has opposed the proposal saying it could result in larger diversion of forests because of local pressures and therefore, the power should remain with the Central government.
The proposals have been placed for the GoM’s consideration after a meeting taken by principal secretary to Prime Minister TKA Nair on July 5. There the officials from coal and power ministries had sought his intervention to get forest clearances for important projects of the public sector companies.
Natarajan at the last GoM meeting had found support only from home minister P Chidambaram on her objections to demand to dilute environment provisions to allow more mining in forest areas. The remaining ministers had supported the report of planning commission member BK Chaturvedi seeking changes in provisions to fast track forest clearance.