What is at stake?
As of now,Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is looking only at coalmines,but the policy might not end there. Last March he announced his ministry had begun identifying the green cover in nine coalfields (Singrauli,Ib Valley,Mand Raigarh,Sohagpur,Talcher,Wardha Valley,Hasdeo-Arand,North Karanpura and West Bokaro) and classified these blocks into Categories A (No Go) and B (Go).
Also at stake is huge capital investment from power,steel,cement and other end-use sectors. If project developers are being told now that coal blocks allocated to them have fallen in No Go areas,the Planning Commission has warned,then it is bound to trigger anxiety among other developers too. Denial of permission at this stage would put a large amount of capital at risk and would also have an adverse impact on production and investment plans as well as completion of end use power,steel and fertiliser plants, it warned.
What do Go and No Go mean?
Either a project can be allowed or it cannot,and that will depend on the forest cover of that area. The Environment Ministry has a complex formula that sets limits for the forest cover. If the cover crosses these limits,it means No Go for projects (see box).
How much sense does it make?
The concept is not legally enforceable yet. In a communication to the Power Ministry recently,Environment conceded this. Such a categorisation is in no way a substitute to the statutory powers conferred to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980. The provisions under the Act do not provide freedom to communicate the acceptance of any forest land for use of non-forestry purposes without passing through the statutory process, the ministry said in its communique.
Whats the point?
That was what the Coal Ministry wanted to know when it sent a note to the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure. The Environment Ministers justification was that diversion of forest land for coal mining in Category A areas,rich in flora and fauna,would have avoidable serious adverse impact on forests and wildlife.
If mining were to continue,even with afforestation and reclamation,the ministry said,it would not be possible to restore those regions biodiversity. The ministry said it was following the procedure set out by the Supreme Court and provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972,in diversion of forest land in protected areas. It argued that any deviation from these procedures could invite adverse action from the Supreme Court.
Who are against it?
All coal-related ministries are up in arms against the formula. The Coal Ministry says it would trigger an annual production shortfall of 660 million tonnes,which could have helped generate 1,30,000 MW of thermal power. It has asked the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure to direct the Environment Ministry to clear all pending coal projects unless there were insurmountable hurdles.
The Power Ministry has also reminded the CCI that the government is committed to ensure Power to All by 2012 following which it had taken up massive capacity addition programmes in the 11th Plan period. Existing power plants are facing an acute coal shortage against a demand projected at 555 MT by 2012-13 and around 950 MT by 2016-17. The ministry is worried about the prospects of some planned ultra mega power projects,or UMPPs.