Centre likely to extend forest clearances for over 40 mines
According to senior officials in the environment ministry, the extension of green clearances is necessary to avert major disruptions in the mining industry. Environmental activists and researchers warned that a transfer of clearances would pose the risk of past violations of by mining companies.Updated: Dec 08, 2019 05:37 IST
Forest clearances for over 40 mines on which leases are set to expire on March 31, 2020, are likely be extended for new lessees that will take over the mines.The environment ministry has drafted a policy of extending forest clearances for non-captive mines that have been already operating for the past 50 years.
The policy is now awaiting approval from the ministry of law and justice.
According to senior officials in the environment ministry, the extension of green clearances is necessary to avert major disruptions in the mining industry. Environmental activists and researchers warned that a transfer of clearances would pose the risk of past violations of by mining companies.
“Prior to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2015, there was a provision for extension of lease after its expiry. But now that has changed. On March 31, 2020 the lease of over 40 mines will expire. The forest clearance is co-terminus with the lease,” said Siddhanta Das, director general of forests and special secretary in the environment ministry.
“The new leases will be allotted through auction. We propose to extend the forest clearances for these mines to work within the same broken area and capacity. This can avoid any major disruption in production,” Das said.
The issue was discussed at a Forest Advisory Committee meeting on October 17, where it was recommended that the ministry seek legal advice from the law ministry before placing facts before the committee because it involves interpretation of laws.
The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries has appealed to the environment ministry for the extension in forest and environmental clearances. It has also sought an extension of the lease period until 2030 for the 48 mines facing expiry by March 31, 2020.
An analysis of the FIMI has shown that 265,000 people will be left jobless because of the expiry of the leases, a spokesperson for the federation said.
“It will impact production. More than 30% of India’s iron ore production will be wiped out for some time.”
Ideally, the lease period should be extended for 20 years at a time until reserves last, the spokesperson said. “We are, however, not sure how the environment ministry can extend clearances when the lease itself expires,” he added.
According to FIMI, the lease of 48 operational mines will expire in March next year.
“The legal clarity needed here is not just about the power to extend or transfer forest clearances. It is about the huge liabilities that have built up over decades. The Supreme Court’s MB Shah Commission had pointed out that many iron ore mines had violated forest clearance procedures.”
“This means that the impacts on ecology and livelihoods are a result of that illegality. In most cases the remediation is still pending even if fines may have been paid,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research think tank.
The Shah Commission in 2014 found large-scale violation of environment and forest laws in Odisha because of illegal mining practices by lease holders.
“The Shah Commission found gross violations in the mining sector in Odisha. What about those? Transferring forest clearance without an assessment will be a violation of law. We need an assessment of forests and implementation of forest rights act in these large mines,” said Tushar Dash of the Odisha-based environmental organization, Vasundhara.