Environment minister Veerappa Moily has obliged his Cabinet colleague and steel minister Beni Prasad Verma by approving an iron ore mining project in the middle of India’s best reserve for tuskers, Singhbhum Elephant Reserve in Jharkhand.
The Steel Authority of India’s Durgaiburu iron-ore mine in Saranda forest division of Jharkhand will now get 635 hectares of forest land after the nod by an environment ministry committee last month.
The ministry’s statutory Forest Advisory Committee, which only can sanction diversion of forest land for other uses, had cleared transfer of only 274 hectares for the project and made the diversion of the rest conditional on approval to a wildlife management plan.
But the Cabinet Committee on Investments in April 2013 asked the environment ministry not to link the approval with the management plan.
The ministry obliged and assured a special meeting of the FAC within a month. But that didn’t happen till January this year.
Soon after Moily took over, Verma sought his intervention for clearing the project. The ministry promptly removed the conservation plan rider.
In doing so, however, it has put itself in spot because it will have to approve Arcelor Mittal’s 1.6 million tonne iron ore project in the same reserve if it applies the same rule.
The SAIL’s contention was that more forest land will increase the mining capacity to 10 million tonnes per annum.
The steel giant also assured to abide by the wildlife management plan being funded by it.