Hit by Supreme Court orders on mining related environmental issues, the government has asked attorney general GE Vahanvati to brief a Group of Ministers on coal, mining and environmental issues on Tuesday regarding its likely impact on the sector.
The Apex Court orders had stopped mining in Bellary, Karnataka, on grounds of huge environmental degradation and had issued environment ministry to submit report on how much minerals India need for domestic and export purposes.
While approving limestone mining for multi-national Lafarge, the court asked the ministry to set up an independent regulator to impose penalty on polluters and said, henceforth, the principles of National Forest Policy, 1988, should be made applicable in project approval.
The two court orders can have huge implications on environmental rules are enforced in India and the government wants the important GoM headed by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee to understand them before deciding on a new policy for remove environmental hurdles in the mining sector.
Mukerjee asked Vahanvati to make a detailed presentation on the issue before the GoM discusses recommendations of BK Chaturvedi committee on removing environment hurdles for coal sector. The Planning Commission member Chaturvedi had recommended drastic changes in environment laws including review of the environment ministry's go-no -go policy for coal mining in forest areas as it was hampering extraction of minerals.
Chaturvedi, who is also expected to make a presentation at the GoM on Tuesday, had also said sought dilution of the Forest Rights Act in case of mining sector. He wants the condition of two-third quorum to conduct public hearing to be removed for faster issuance of no objection certificate (NOC) for mining. The district administration can issue NOC only after public hearing is conducted.
He, while blaming environment ministry for slow growth rate in coal sector of 5.1% as compared projected 7.8% in the 11th plan, wanted that another impediment to mining Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI) not to be made applicable to the sector.
The ministry had vehemently objected to any dilution of environmental laws at the GoM and the new minister Jayanthi Natarajan is expected to pursue the same line. Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, in his earlier role as environment minister, had accused the coal sector of inefficiency in not meeting the targets and had said environment ministry was unnecessarily being blamed.
Ramesh in his last few days in the ministry had approved coal mines in the fringe of no go forest areas, which the ministry is expected to depict as part of its flexible approach on mining. But, ministry officials say the recent Supreme Court orders, especially on Lafarge will have be kept in mind while considering any relaxation in rules.
In fact, the court had asked us to make laws more stringent and enforceable, a senior ministry official said, while indicating that the track record of mining sector in reclamation of environment is extremely bad.
One-third of coal mines are running with an environmental violation, no land taken for mining has been returned back to the state governments in last 45 years and there is no systematic time bound reclamation plan of mined out areas.
As a result, forest given to the coal companies were lost for ever.