To ramp up coal production to meet growing power needs in 'public interest', the environment ministry has given several relaxations for the coal sector including allowing expansion in a critically polluted Chandrapur, Maharashtra and three-fold increase in expansion without mandatory public hearing.
These exemptions were given after a meeting between environment minister Prakash Javadekar and coal minister Piyush Goyal to increase coal production to meet the demand of thermal power plants which were generating less electricity due to coal shortage.
“We have taken prompt decisions after meeting with coal minister,” Javadekar had told HT last week.
The ministry issued a two-page order just to allow coal expansion in Chandrapur which the Central Pollution Control Board in 2013 categorised as critically polluted under Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI) that rated different zones in the country on environmental parameters.
“It is noted that while the CEPI score is still high in Chandrapur, coal mining activities are site specific depending on availability of coal. Coal mining activities do not seem to be major contributor to the pollution load in the area. Taking into account the issues in totality, it has been decided that the existing moratorium imposed in Chandrapur may be kept in abeyance temporarily for expansion projects for coal mining in the area,” a two-page order issued by the ministry said.
The ministry has, however, imposed nine conditions for the Expert Appraisal Committee to allow expansion in Chandrapur.
A day after this order, the ministry increased the expansion limit for coal mines without mandatory public hearing by three times to the original level.
It also removed the earlier condition of maximum expansion allowed of 25%.
In 2012, the ministry had allowed one time expansion of existing coal mines by 25% or two million tonnes a year whichever was lower.
Now increasing production up to six million tonnes for mining in case of mines having generating capacity of more than 20 million tonnes a year will not require any consent from locals.
This comes some days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on participatory approach in decision making.
This order comes about two months after the ministry said up to 50% expansion of coal mining will not require fresh environmental appraisal and therefore, new environmental approval.