In a bid to end the turf war within the Cabinet over environmental clearances, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to prescribe a new reform package to be adopted by the environment ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh.
Coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal and power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had accused Ramesh’s ministry of creating bottlenecks, causing delays in projects, thereby impacting performance of the two key sectors for India’s economic growth.
The government constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee to sort out the differences but seeing not much headway even after two meetings, the PM has decided to call a meeting next week.
In a background note for a meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has stipulated a 10 point reform package to fasten environment clearances and enhance production of coal and increase power generation. Growth in both the sectors has been much less than the target stipulated in the 11th five year plan.
“MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) should adhere to the specified time limits of 150 days for fresh forest clearance and 150 days for renewal cases,” says the note from the PMO circulated for the meeting.Normally, it takes two to five years to get forest and environmental clearances for projects. This has resulted in coal production growth falling to 5.1 % in 2011-12 from 7.4 % in 2009-10.
Environmental restrictions have also forced the government to downsize coal production growth to 7.8% in the 11th five year plan, against the original target of 9.5 %.
Another issue which is likely to be discussed at the meeting to be attended by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee, Ramesh, Jaiswal and Shinde, is the delay being caused in approving projects in forest areas due to the Forest Rights Act.
The environment ministry in 2009 had decided that no project in forest areas would be approved until provisions of the Act -- related to consent of locals -- are met. According to the note, it takes a very long time to hold public hearings to seek approval of the local people for getting a project approved and there should be a mechanism to reduce time gap in holding such hearings.
The note also says that there was a need to review the moratorium imposed in coal bearing areas under the environment ministry’s Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI).
The index covered seven major coalfields, causing production loss of 39 million tonnes in 2011-12. The ministry has already lifted the moratorium in most of these coal blocks.
The PMO has also expressed concern over slow acquisition of land for setting up power plants and coal blocks and failure of railways to produce enough wagons to keep pace with increase in production.
A decision regarding incentives to the state governments to hasten land acquisition and granting no objection certificates for setting up projects is likely to be taken at the meeting.