In what can be seen as a relaxation in its ban on mining in 'no-go' areas, the environment ministry on Wednesday cleared six coal blocks, including five in such areas, for three major power plants in Orissa.
"All the six coal-blocks are part of the IB Valley coalfield and only one (Meenakshi-A) is presently in the 'go' area, the other five being in 'no go' areas," environment minister Jairam Ramesh said in a statement clearing the coal-blocks linked to UMPP, NTPC and OPGC power plants.
Three coal-blocks (Meenakshi-A, Meenakshi-B and Meenakshi Dipside) have been allocated to the 3960MW/4000MW Ultra Mega Power Plant (UMPP), he said.
Last year, environment ministry had defined 'no—go' areas for mining as those that have over 30% gross forest cover or over 10% weighted forest cover.
As per the guidelines, the mining is allowed only in the 'go' areas.
Ramesh said, "Coal-blocks (Manoharpur and Manoharpur Dipside) have been allocated to the 1320 MW power plant of Orissa Power Generation Corporation (OPGC). One coal-block (Dulanga) has been allocated to NTPC's 1600 MW power plant."
Since the UMPP had already advanced considerably and in response to persistent requests from it, discussions were held first with the power ministry and to see how the use of good quality forest land could be minimised in the UMPP-linked coal-blocks, the minister said.
"Based on these discussions, I wrote to the Union power minister on February 14, 2011 saying that the ministry of power could consider the UMPP-linked coal blocks as having been approved but that this would mean the ministry of power giving up plans for the NTPC and OPGC power plants," he said.
"Subsequently, NTPC and OPGC also came forward and offered substantial changes in their mining plans," Ramesh said.