Environment minister Jairam Ramesh may find himself isolated on go and no-go areas for coal mining, with the coal ministry getting overwhelming support for its proposal to restrict no-go areas to 10% of forestland.
At least six central ministries, which submitted comments on the coal ministry’s note for the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure, had termed Ramesh’s stand unjustified and an impediment to economic growth.
The environment ministry has given six reasons why the coal ministry’s proposal is not a good idea. It said accepting the proposal would have an adverse impact on forests and wildlife, ignoring the classification could result in judicial intervention, and would go against the spirit of forest conservation law open floodgates for similar requests from other ministries.
The coal ministry hit back saying diverting only 00.75% of India’s total forestland cannot jeopardise the country’s intricate bio-diversity, ecological and watershed characteristics.
“Coal seams are contiguous to existing operational areas and segregation is not practical,” the coal ministry responded.
The coal ministry also said that the average pendency period for getting forestry clearances range from three to six years though the statutory requirement is 150 days. It includes a large number of coal blocks, which are in go-areas as per the environment ministry’s classification.
The environment ministry, however, said any delay is because of submission of required documents and as many as 223 projects of Coal India have been approved.
The Planning Commission, from where Ramesh had expected support, believes the coal ministry is right.
“In case there are concerns on wildlife and forestry, necessary stipulations about providing protection and investments in forestry may be made while granting approvals,” the panel said, stressing a better monitoring mechanism to ensure environment management plans are implemented.
Among various ministries supporting coal, the steel ministry has given most the vehement support, saying that the steel sector had to import 24 million tonnes of coking coal as against 16.84 million tonnes domestic production.
The power ministry, whose electricity generation target depends on coal extraction, has termed Ramesh’s classification as illegal, saying it will adversely impact power generation capacity of 130,000 MW, which depends on coal.