Environment ministry relaxes expansion norms for certain mines
The Union environment ministry has relaxed the environmental norms for the expansion of certain iron, manganese, bauxite, and limestone mines. According to an office memorandum (OM) issued on October 20, expansion of up to 20% capacity for mines of these four minerals with a 5-star rating can be allowed only based on public consultation.
The OM said the ministry of mines and other stakeholders sent representations to the environment ministry to simplify the procedure for issuing environmental clearance for these minerals. The request was referred to the joint expert appraisal committee (coal and non-coal mining sector) of the environment ministry. The panel decided that mines with a 5-star rating, which had been granted environmental clearance based on a public hearing, can expand their capacity by up to 20%. They can do so after conducting a public consultation.
The OM published on the environment ministry’s Parivesh website said public consultation shall be conducted by obtaining responses in writing from local people and stakeholders. According to Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006, public consultation refers to the process by which the concerns of local affected persons and others, who have plausible stake in the environmental impacts of the project, are addressed. It has two components—a public hearing and getting responses to the project in writing. The OM said the expansion in capacity should not involve any increase in the mining lease area that has been authorised previously.
The mining company or project proponent has to prepare an environmental management plan and environmental parameters should meet the standards.
The star rating process was started by the ministry of mines in 2016. The template has to be filed by the mine lease-holder which is evaluated by the Indian Bureau of Mines. The rating is based on the management of impact by carrying out scientific and efficient mining, addressing social impacts of resettlement and rehabilitation requirements for taking up mining activities, local community engagements and welfare programmes, adoption of international standards, etc
“The decision is discretionary, has no basis in law, and is against the principles of natural justice. At the very basic level, the EIA notification does not provide for exemptions based on standards such as ‘five-star rating’ as is being directed through an office memorandum. The law embraces the need for a free, fair, and transparent public hearing ensuring maximum participation. Limiting the public consultation to only written responses is discriminatory and may not hold up if put to a constitutional review,” said Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.
“But equally important is to recognise that such an approach to public hearings does not rise up to inclusive and democratic governance that has been assured by the central government. The principles of natural justice require the government to hear all parties before making decisions, whereas this decision has been taken solely on the request of applicants for environmental approvals.”