MoEF takes off two coal blocks from the auction list, reduces size & lease period of another
In a memorandum to the coal ministry on December 22, 2014, the environment ministry gave its comments on the 74 coal blocks that had been listed for auctioning.
The Mahan coal block in the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh may never make to the auction table. Taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s cancellation of coal block allocations, the environment ministry has sought to take off two blocks from the auction list and reduce the size and lease period of another.In a memorandum to the coal ministry on December 22, 2014, the environment ministry gave its comments on the 74 coal blocks that had been listed for auctioning. It said that the three coals blocks—Mahan, Marki-Mangli II and Namchik-Namphuk–are located in dense forests that have been classified as “inviolate” by the environment ministry and should not be auctioned. The letter was accessed by Greenpeace through an RTI application.
The ministry said that although final forest clearance had been granted for the Mahan coal block, it should not be included for auction since “mining in the block has not been started.”Similarly, there has been no mining in the Marki-Mangli II block in Maharashtra.
The ministry asked for the Namchik-Namphuk coal block in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh to be reduced to 39.02 hectares and the lease period to be limited. Forest clearance for this area had already been accorded and it was being mined by the Arunachal Pradesh Mineral Development & Trading Corporation from 2007 till 2012, when operations were suspended on account of involvement of insurgents.
The environment ministry has consistently opposed mining of the Mahan coal block as it would involve the destruction of dense forest areas. As environment minister, Jairam Ramesh had rejected Essar and Hindalco’s forest clearance application for the block. Ramesh had suggested to the Group of Ministers dealing with the issue that an alternative coal block be allocated to the two companies.
The GoM subsequently overturned the order issued by Ramesh. However, then, too, the environment ministry registered its objection. Then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan made a note of her “reservations” on file.
“Despite reservations against diversions of this dense forestland, expressed strongly by MoEF at the GoM, in view of the considered decision taken by the GoM and the fact that the entire civil work and construction of the plant is already complete after the procurement of EC (environmental clearance) and resulting inter alia in huge exposure to nationalised banks—FC (forest clearance) may be granted to the Mahan block.”
Natarajan went on to write that “it is crucial to avoid such classic fait accompli situations in future in order to preserve the integrity of our forests.”
In March 2012, at the behest of the Group of Ministers, the environment ministry set up a committee headed by then environment secretary Tishyarakshit Chatterjee to develop the parameters for identifying inviolate forest areas. The findings were not acceptable to the GoM. However, in the absence of an alternative, the environment ministry decided to use the classification till a new demarcation of inviolate forest areas was adopted.
On assuming office, the NDA government tasked the Forest Survey of India with reworking the indicators for identifying forest areas to be out of bounds for mining and forest activities. The environment ministry is said to be in the process of finalising the identification process.