State-owned companies running captive coal blocks can now use degraded forests

The forest conservation rules of 2003 earlier said such plantations should be raised on non-forest land to compensate for loss of forests due to coal mining.
the coal ministry last week reviewed the status of allottees of captive coal mines that have either started production or are likely to do so in the current financial year. (Representational image)
the coal ministry last week reviewed the status of allottees of captive coal mines that have either started production or are likely to do so in the current financial year. (Representational image)
Updated on Apr 25, 2022 06:07 AM IST
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ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

State-owned companies that operate captive coal mines will now be allowed compensatory afforestation activities on degraded forests instead on non-forest land, the environment ministry has said.

Compensatory afforestation over degraded forests that is double in extent instead of equivalent of non-forest land may be considered for captive coal blocks of state public sector units on a case-by-case basis, the environment ministry’s forest conservation division said in a letter to all state governments and union territories on April 11.

The forest conservation rules of 2003 earlier said such plantations should be raised on non-forest land to compensate for loss of forests due to coal mining.

However, such cases will be considered only if the chief secretary of a state certifies that no non-forest land is available for compensatory afforestation and no other forest land such as revenue lands not under administrative control of the state government is available for compensatory afforestation.

“This consideration is being made for new captive coal blocks. Degraded forest lands are those with canopy density of less than 0.4. A good forest has a canopy density of 0.7 or more,” an environment ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

“The plantations in degraded forests will help improve the density of degraded forests. Forest departments anyway do this work of improving degraded forests,” the official added. “But now captive coal blocks have cited the problem of shortage of land for compensatory afforestation, so this has been considered.”

Compensatory afforestation is a crucial condition for the central government’s approval to divert forest land for non-forest purposes.

“Where non-forest land is available but lesser in extent to the forest area being diverted, CA (compensatory afforestation) could be carried out over degraded forest twice in extent of the area being diverted or the difference between the forest land being diverted and the available non-forest land, as the case may be,” according to the Handbook of Forest Conservation Rules 2003, Guidelines and Clarifications.

Meanwhile, the coal ministry last week reviewed the status of allottees of captive coal mines that have either started production or are likely to do so in the current financial year.

“It was appreciated that coal production from captive coal blocks during 2021-22 was 85 million tonne (MT), an increase of around 35% over 63 MT produced during the previous year 2020-21. The enhanced coal production helped in shortening the demand-supply gap in the domestic market,” the ministry said in a statement.

Presently, 106 coal mining areas have been allocated by the ministry under the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015, and mine opening permissions have been received for 47 coal blocks. This is expected to increase to 60 coal blocks in 2022-23. Annual peak capacity of operational coal blocks will be around 230 MT and coal production will be enhanced substantially to more than 140 MT during 2022-23, the statement added.

These measures will substantially reduce the need to import coal, thus saving foreign exchange.

“This is yet another instance of regulation by exception to selectively accommodate demands of specific economic sectors,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, a think tank. “The regulatory exemption gives the impression that state government undertakings will gain from this exemption and, therefore, compensatory afforestation can be carried out on degraded forest land.”

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Monday, June 27, 2022