Mining permit: Govt allows transfer of green nod from old to new lessees
The Union environment ministry has made provisions for mining permits to be transferred to new mining lessees from previous lease holders, without having to apply for a fresh forest clearance, people familiar with the matter said.
The latest exemption was meant to facilitate smooth handover of mines that are presently being auctioned in various states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the people cited above added.
In a letter to all states and Union territories on July 7, the ministry said that the transfer of approval under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, can be made provided mining companies that are new lease holders meet certain conditions.
The conditions for transfer of forest clearance include complete compliance of terms and conditions stipulated in the forest clearance granted previously, and rules and guidelines framed thereafter.
Non-compliance of conditions, if any, stipulated in the forest clearance granted to the erstwhile agency shall be transferred as liabilities to the new lessee, and in such cases, complete compliance of such conditions will have to be made prior to handing over of forest land to the new lessee.
“It is clarified that in case of violation of any of the conditions which was done during the period of previous allocattee and which constitutes an offence under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the penal clauses will be invoked against the previous allocattee only and not against the new allocattee,” the letter read.
The reclamation of mined-out forest area in the leased area as per the approved mining plan shall be an obligatory condition for the new lessee, which also has to follow land use plan for the forest land.
The transfer of forest clearance to the new company can be accorded by state governments subject to fulfilment of conditions, the letter said, clarifying that mining companies do not require approaching the Centre in this regard.
The environment ministry, in its letter, said the decision to transfer forest clearance was made based on the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2021, which was notified by the Centre on March 28, 2021. According to section 8b of the amended act, “it shall be lawful for the new lessee to continue mining operations on the land till expiry or termination of mining lease granted to it, in which mining operations were being carried out by the previous lessee.”
“The letter is self-explanatory and it also gives a reason as to why such transfer of clearance is being considered,” a senior environment ministry official said, preferring anonymity.
Environmental experts, however, believe that lack of environmental oversight could lead to complete degradation of certain mining-affected regions.
“We have to understand that some of these mines that have been auctioned have been mined for lease periods of 20 to 30 years. Now after the transfer of forest clearance without any assessment, they will be mined for another 20 to 30 years. This can be extremely detrimental to local ecology because the ground situation has changed massively during all these years. Also, when the mines had been made operational in the 90s or 80s, there were only one or two mines in a certain region. Now, several mines have come up in that zone. How will the cumulative impact of so many mines on the forest cover of the region be assessed?” Sudiep Shrivastava, Chhattisgarh-based environmental lawyer, said.
“It is significant that the ministry has recognised that non-compliance of conditions is a serious legacy issue in transfer of forest clearances, which is to be either addressed prior to the handover of approval, or liability fixed on to the new allottee. But this does not actually guarantee that years of illegality-induced conflicts will be resolved. Approval conditions are tied to questions of rehabilitation, jobs, contamination of farms and homesteads or land grab cannot be fixed only by bureaucratic paperwork. The penal clauses may lead to revenue collection for forest departments, but are no assurance against future illegalities,” Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, said.