The environment ministry has empowered states to allow mining in non-forest areas without the final approval from the forest ministry, reversing a UPA-introduced rule considered a major roadblock in fast execution of mining leases for coal and other major minerals.
The decision can lead to faster extraction of minerals as around 50% of the land in mining leases falls in non-forest areas.
In April 2014, the then UPA government had made it mandatory for mining companies to await a final clearance from the forest ministry for both forest and non-forest areas to start mining.
The new rule was introduced this month through a notification by the NDA government which took heed of a representation by the coal ministry seeking delinking of mining in non-forest areas from final forest approval as it was delaying execution of several projects.
Official sources said the green ministry issued the notification after considering the representation and consulting the mines ministry, which said that the change would be in accordance with the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957.
“The state government, if so desires, may execute a separate mining lease for whole or part of non-forest land falling in such mining lease,” the notification month said. “The state governments, in such cases, will ensure that there is no violation of the Forest Conservation Act”.
The UPA government had introduced the rule to thwart alleged attempt by companies to seek a quid pro quo approach on the ground that the forest ministry’s rejection of the approval would result in loss of huge investment already done in the non-forest areas.
The stage-I approval is primarily to study the impact of project activity on the local flora fauna. Once the study is completed and submitted, the forest advisory committee (FAC) decides on the final approval for diversion of the forest land.
Since coming to power, the NDA government has pushed for simpler rules and faster clearance of projects to attract investments in mining, a sector that has been mired in corruption over allocation of coal blocks.
It also introduced auctioning of coal and other major mineral mines through electronic mode in a bid to bring in transparency in the process.