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Jaiswal bats for an end to 'no go' zone in mining

Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal pushed for doing away with the "no go" classification introduced for coal mining projects and sought a 150-day deadline for environmental clearance for all mining projects.

S. P. S. Pannu   New Delhi     Last Updated: February 18, 2011  | 15:35 IST

Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal on Thursday pushed for doing away with the "no go" classification introduced for coal mining projects by the ministry of environment and forests and sought a 150-day deadline for environmental clearance for all mining projects.

A coal ministry official told Mail Today that the presentation made by the coal ministry received a positive response from other ministers at the group of ministers (GoM) meeting headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Jaiswal stressed that the Centre needed to switch to a practical approach based on the earlier forest laws and drop the "no go" and "go" area classification for coal mining introduced by the environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh. He also cited cases of mining projects being held up by as much as much as three to six years.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee asked the ministry of environment and forests to make its presentation on the issues raised by the coal ministry in the next meeting of the GoM to be held next month.

The environment ministry's 'no-go' classification introduced in 2009 has blocked mining in 203 blocks, which have the potential of producing 660 million tonnes of coal a year. According to coal ministry estimates, the output from these blocks could have been used to generate around 1.3 lakh MW of power per annum.

The environment ministry had identified about 35 per cent of forest area in nine major coal mining zones as "no go" zones.

This accounts for as much as 44 per cent of the area that public sector Coal India Ltd (CIL) wants to mine.

Jaiswal's stand has the support of power minister Sushilkumar Shinde as more coal is needed to meet the expanding needs of the country's power plants.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is also of the view that Ramesh must be more flexible on his "no go" area stand as the objective of economic development has to be kept in mind.

"All the issues like "no go" coal blocks and coal imports were discussed.

We will meet again sometime in the second week of March on the issue," Jaiswal said. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh said, "I have assured them that from our ministry's side, we will adopt a positive attitude." Ramesh said his ministry had already lifted moratorium on 13 areas, categorised as 'critically polluted' under the Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI).

The environment ministry had last year imposed a temporary moratorium on development projects in 43 clusters identified as "critically polluted". Seven coalfields, including Chandrapur, Korba, Dhanbad, Talcher, Singrauli, Asansol and IB Valley came under the ambit of the CEPI moratorium.

He said technical teams from the Central Pollution Control Board are in the field.

"I hope that we will be able to lift the moratorium by end of March as we had originally anticipated," he said. He explained that CEPI was not a coal pollution index but a comprehensive emission measurement tool.

Ramesh, who had earlier taken a tough stand to enforce forest protection laws, said he did not intend to stop the projects. "It is also true that there is a decline in forest cover in India, which needs to be checked," he said.

The 12-member GoM also includes steel minister Beni Prasad Verma and road transport minister C. P. Joshi and was set up following a Cabinet decision to resolve the turf war between Jaiswal and Ramesh.

Courtesy: Mail Today 

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