A day before the Group of Ministers meeting on environment clearances, the Environment ministry has expressed willingness to increase the coal mining area to 74 % in 28 blocks, which fall in forests, as against 65% earlier.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh is expected to inform the GoM that he was willing to allow coal mining in 28 coal blocks, which fall in 'No-Go' areas by redefining its boundaries.
This means that an additional 82,000 hectares of forest area would be available for coal mining. “Even if 80% of these 28 coal blocks (with redefined boundary) is shifted to go category, total 477 (81.95 %) coal blocks covering 4,46,000 ha (73.98 %) will be available for mining,” Ramesh had said, in a confidential note.
Agreeing that his ministry’s 'no-go' policy for coal mining was not legally enforceable, the minister has said the categorization was indicative to identify forest areas that can be considered for allowing coal mining, by causing least damage to forests and wildlife.
The ministry has not imposed any blockages, as claimed by the Coal ministry, for projects not falling in forest areas. The Expert Appraisal Committee is expected to consider 21 fresh coal mining projects at its next meeting on February 21.
The ministry has, however, ruled out any changes in criteria for identification of critically polluted areas to approve coal mining areas. In fact, the critically polluted areas identified on the basis of the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) score is valid only for industrial clusters in urban areas and does not cover forests, where the coal bearing zones fall.
Of the 88 industrial clusters, 43 having a CEPI score of more than 70 were identified as critically polluted and a moratorium was imposed on allowing new industries there in January 2010, a ministry note on Wednesday said.
This comes after media reports that Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had agreed to increase the threshold limit to 75 on CEPI score to allow 16 coalmines.
Of the 43 industrial clusters, the ministry lifted the moratorium from five polluted areas --- in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat --- in October 2010, after the state governments submitted plans to deal with pollution.
On Wednesday, the moratorium was lifted from another eight critically polluted areas on basis of recommendations of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). They are Ludhiana (Punjab), Varanasi-Mirzapur and Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu) and Dombivalli, Aurangabad and Navin Mumbai (Maharashtra).
With regard to the moratorium in other areas, action plans of 25 industrial clusters are being verified and revised plans are been awaited for the remaining five. “Third party monitoring of these plans will be done,” the note said.
The note emphasized on Ramesh’s effort to allow industrial activity compliant with environmental laws, the issue to be discussed in the GoM headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee. Many colleagues of Ramesh such as Coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal, Power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Commerce minister Anand Sharma have opposed his environmental policies, accusing him of blocking development projects in name of protecting ecology.
The Environment minister is expected to set the record straight at the GoM meeting on Thursday by showcasing data that delay in environmental clearances is more because of incomplete documentation, rather than environmental activism.