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Govt of India to limit coal mining to degraded forest areas

Coal mining projects on degraded forest land would get faster forest clearances to pave the way for India to produce 2 billion tonnes a year by 2030.


The ministries of environment and forests and coal have agreed to reduce the delay in implementing projects related to coal exploration and production.


New targets: Environment minister Jairam Ramesh says that most delays were at the level of the state government, not the Centre."No project should wait five years for a clearance. We will ensure the process gets reduced to a year at the maximum," environment minister Jairam Ramesh said.


However, areas that have dense and moderately dense forest cover will no longer be available for such projects.


The ministry of coal will submit plans of its coal field areas superimposed with digitized satellite maps of India's forest cover, on the basis of which the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) will demarcate its go and no-goareas.


Ramesh said the maps will be ready in three-four weeks and would determine how much of coal bearing areas will be in non-permitted areas. "Delays will be cut after this. Most delays are at the state government level and not Central," he said.


Ramesh and coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal will travel to Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa—which together host a majority of the coal reserves in the country—to talk to the state governments on the issue.


According to the latest forest survey of India, out of the total forest cover, 57% is under dense and moderately dense canopy and 42% under open forests, defined as areas where the canopy cover is between 10% and 40%.


In another move, environmental clearances for coal mines will no longer be given on the basis of capacity India's coal production is around 500 million tonnes, which the ministries said will increase to 1 billion tonnes in seven years.


Out of India's 270 billion tonnes of coal reserves, 30% is in Jharkhand, 25% in Orissa and 20% in Chhattisgarh. These states also have high forest cover; Jharkhand has 30%, Orissa, 37% and Chhattisgarh, 44%.


"India's power (production) plans will not materialize without increase in coal production," Ramesh said.


The United Progressive Alliance government's target on energy production is an ambitious addition of 13,000MW of installed capacity every year.


According to preliminary estimates, around 50,000ha of forest area will need to be diverted for coal exploration and production in the seven-eight years only for Coal India Ltd.


A decision taken in the 17 June meeting was to set up three pilot sites for exploratory bore holes in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand to ascertain the impact on local flora and fauna.


In another key decision, environmental clearances for coal mines will no longer be given on the basis of capacity. Instead, all clearances will have to be on the basis of peak production.


"This is to reduce the number of times companies need to come to the ministry for clearances for increasing production," Ramesh said. "We have to clear coal fields and not coal mines."


To tackle the issue of inadequate capacity to deal with clearances, Coal India will induct a senior forest service officer to coordinate with state forest departments and MoEF.


The environmental appraisal committee of coal projects will also reinduct a representative from the coal ministry and Coal India will add two positions of advisors on forest and environment issues.


Livemint / 18 June

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