Following an intervention by the PM Manmohan Singh, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has agreed to free 71% of the forestland in nine coalfields against 53% envisaged earlier. In return, he wants the coal sector to improve its environment report card.
Ramesh made the offer at the recent Group of Ministers meeting on environmental issues headed by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee after facing brickbats from his colleagues on promoting environment at the cost of economic growth.
“MoEF is prepared to consider revised ‘go no-go’ approach that frees 71% of the area in nine coalfields as opposed to original insistence of 53%. This is a huge compromise keeping in view PM’s instructions,” Ramesh said, in his presentation to the GoM.
Any area having crop density of more than 10% is defined as a forest. Of the 6.48 lakh hectares of forestland surveyed, 3.44 lakh was under the category of no-go areas. On PMO insistence, the area was first increased to 56% and then finally to 71% or 4.62 lakh hectares.
But, in the same presentation, he wanted the GoM to ask Coal India why it has failed to meet production targets despite having two lakh hectares, including 55,000 hectares of forestland.
The minister also challenged the coal mining strategy by saying it was harsh on ecology and demonstrated some facts to showcase his claim.
For the slow pace of forestry clearance for coal projects, Ramesh has blamed Coal India by saying it has very poor record in relief and rehabilitation of people affected by mining and its poor compliance of meeting the provisions of the Forest Rights Act for getting forestry clearance.