In the first major review of Jairam Ramesh’s policy as in-charge of the environment ministry, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has agreed to review the March 2011 order which imposed fresh conditions for considering mining sector projects.
In the four page order, the ministry had imposed a new condition that mining companies cannot seek environment clearance for projects involving forestland without getting stage-I forest clearance. Stage-I clearance is for conducting environment impact studies and stage-II is the final approval.
Any mining project on forestland involves needs two clearances -forest and environment- to operationalise mines. Till the March 31 order, the companies were allowed to simultaneously apply for the two clearances.
The ministry with the approval of Ramesh changed the rule and also advised companies to seek approval only for non-forestland where the ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee was considering mining projects for final approval without mandatory forest clearance.
Another key change was refusal to allow expansion of mining projects in forest areas without fresh clearance. Earlier, up to 25% expansion was allowed without prior forest approval. “The expansion projects involving horizontal spread with additional land requirement will be dealt with as green field projects, if additional forestland is to be diverted,” the order had said.
The order created lot of fear in the mine sector and it was apparent when coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal raised the issue at a Group of Minister’s meeting on Tuesday. Sources said Jaiswal termed it an unnecessary impediment in coal extraction. Jaiswal was backed by power minister Shushil Shinde and commerce minister Anand Sharma.
Natarajan reportedly responded by saying that she was not against simultaneous environment and forest clearance process and agreed to review the controversial order issued during Ramesh’s tenure.
However, she was non-committal on scrapping the order and assured to report back her action on the order at the next GoM meeting. She also opposed the suggestion that up to 25% of the expansion should be allowed.
Order and its implications
No automatic expansion of mining projects on forestland
Implication:Many companies were forced to seek fresh clearance which could have taken on average a year. Ministry believed it will prevent misuse of clearances.
No simultaneous environment and forest clearance. First seek stage one forest clearance and then apply for environment clearance.
Implication: Would have caused delay in seeking approval. Ministry believed it will reduce workload and fasten clearance process as only viable projects will be considered.
Fresh approval for renewal of environment clearance of abandoned or sick mines
Implication:Financial burden to seek new approval. Ministry believed it would have provided them opportunity for fresh assessment of impact on environment.