Environment got a new champion in home minister P Chidambaram who agreed with environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan's opposition to BK Chaturvedi report on diluting environmental regulations to fasten growth of the coal sector at a group of ministers (GoM) meeting.
Chidambaram reportedly said that if Chaturvedi committee report was accepted it will lead to huge environmental degradation after Natarajan had made a 20-minute presentation on why his report was bad for Indian forests.
Chidambaram had earlier opposed former environment minister Jairam Ramesh at the earlier GoM meeting but on Tuesday found substance in Natarajan's presentation, who was willing to accept some changes in the environment policy without adverse impact on forests.
After a hour long meeting, the GoM deferred its decision on the report because of the differences.
Chaturvedi wanted the GoM to consider nine policy issues including scrapping of go-no go policy in forest areas for coal mining, remove condition of quorum for seeking gram sabha's consent for projects, allow 25% expansion of existing projects without public hearing and further delegation of forest approval powers to the state government.
Natarajan reportedly did not agree with most of the recommendations saying most coal mining zones are India's worst environmental areas. Air pollution level in most of the coal mining areas was double of the national standard and water quality was also bad.
On specific recommendations of the committee, Natarajan was apparently of the view that scrapping of go no go policy can lead to delay in project approval and it was mooted by coal ministry to fasten project clearance.
She opposed the suggestion to alter Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI) to allow coal mining.
Hitting back at the coal ministry, Natarajan said Coal India had claimed in its IPO that it has 64 billion tonnes of coal but was able to extract only 50 million tonnes annually.
On the critical issue of dilution of Forest Rights Act, the GoM decided to seek views of the tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo even as Chidambaram and road transport minister CP Joshi objected to the proposed dilution.
Chaturvedi, who made a presentation, found support from coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal, power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and commerce minister Anand Sharma.
Sharma suggested that forest approval with the state or the central government should be based on cost of the project rather than the forestland involved. Mines upto five hectares are approved by the state, which is 71 % of the total projects approved, and rest of ministry or its regional offices.
The GoM decision to call attorney general GE Vahanvati was deferred after the ministers sought time to study the Supreme Court orders on Bellary and Lafarge and its implications for the sector.
Environment ministry will circulate the orders to members of the GoM.