Govt relaxes green norms for projects connecting mines
Roads, conveyor belts, railway infrastructure etc. that connect mines to ports or other destinations can now be considered as standalone projects that can be approved by the regional offices of the union environment ministry, the ministry said in a letter to state governments.
“The State Government/User agency shall ensure that dispensation considered by the Ministry is not misused in any way and likely tendencies to detach linear projects from the main proposal of mining should not be encouraged. To the extent possible, linear infrastructure such as roads/railways/conveyor belts, etc. ancillary to mining should be included in the main proposal and under inevitable circumstance only, such proposals submitted by the user agency should be considered as standalone projects,” the letter, dated August 23, stated.
It has, however, cautioned that all forest clearance proposals for mining shall have an additional column for the project proponent to certify that they have critically examined the mineral extraction pathways and that no new extraction path outside the mining area shall be proposed during the next five years. As far as possible existing roads, railway infrastructure should be strengthened to minimise forest and tree cover loss, the letter states.
The letter states that the ministry of coal had requested the environment ministry to consider the possibility of constructing new linear projects linking mines to dumping or loading sites. The ministry of coal launched an auction for mines last year. In the first tranche 38 were listed and in the second tranche 67 mines in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were listed for commercial coal mine auctions.
“Based on the recommendation of the FAC and approval of the same by the competent authority, the ministry hereby conveys that supplementary linear project linked to mining that are conceived after the start of the original mining, should be considered as a standalone linear project and decisions on according approval for those shall be made at the REC/IRO (regional empowered committee/integrated regional office of MoEFCC) concerned as per provisions provided in the Forest Conservation) Rules, 2003,” the letter stated.
Transportation of coal is a contentious issue in many parts of the country where locals have opposed it due its large pollution footprint. For example, locals in Odisha’s Sundargarh district have been opposing transportation of coal through their villages because heavy dust pollution caused by the transportation has been damaging our crop production continuously and children are avoiding school for the fear of being run over according to their petitions submitted to the forest advisory committee.
“This delinking of linear infrastructure has to be seen along with the changes in mining laws that allow for mineral extraction without specifying end use. This means that evacuation routes and all the related impacts can continue to shift throughout the life of a mine. Our regulatory appraisal, compliance and monitoring protocols are not designed to address this dynamic demand. In the present case, the enabling conditions are drafted more as a request to user agencies not misuse this privilege and minimize damage. They also give a lot of discretion to the ministry’s regional offices to determine the form and future of linear infrastructure linked to mining projects,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.
“All linear projects are considered by regional offices. In this case the ministry has very specifically said that the need for supplementary infrastructure shouldn’t arise at least for the next five years because transportation should be considered by the mining project. If it does arise then regional offices can critically examine the impact of such supplementary projects,” said a senior environment ministry official.