Environment minister Jairam Ramesh washed his hands of the Go-No-Go policy over coal mining terming it a proposal of the coal ministry, which sought its scrapping at a group of ministers (GoM) meeting on Thursday.
His offer to increase go areas for coal mining to 74% did not cut much ice with his cabinet colleagues, who sought fast tracking of environment clearance for infrastructure projects and abolition of the policy.
Before the GoM, Ramesh took a dig at his critics. While inaugurating a green crematorium concept, he said: “Many must wanting me to be the first one to be cremated here.” At the meeting, he blamed state governments for slow pace of clearance saying of the 55 coal projects pending, 53 were with state governments.
“They (state governments) say their forests and water is taken and in return they get pollution. But coal is taken away by the Cente. Unless there is incentive, fast tracking environment clearances will be difficult,” he told the GoM.
The environment minister also said that Coal India Limited should maximise its production in 1,45,000 hectares of non-forestland, instead of harping on clearances in the 55,000 hectares of forests.
The meeting starting with finance minister Pranab Mukerjee making it clear that the group will not be a substitute for executive functions of the environment ministry or re-write environmental laws. Coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal made a presentation asking the GoM to do away with go-no-go classification of forests for coal mining. In the cabinet note, on which the GoM was constituted, Jaiswal had demanded increase in ‘go’ areas to 90% .
The demand to scrap the go-no-go policy apparently happened after the law ministry terming the classification as legally ‘untenable’ and the Planning Commission describing it ‘unscientific’.
Jaiswal also sought a direction to the environment ministry to ensure that forest clearance is issued within stipulated time limit of 150 days, in place of current average of three to six years. He also wanted coal mines to be kept out of the purview of critically polluted industrial clusters.
Home minister P Chidambaram insisted that a price will have to paid for persuing the goal of achieving 9% economic growth. Ramesh was asked to make a presentation before the GoM on March 15.