Sunday, April 4, 2010

Coal mining

A third of coal belts will be off mining limits
Thermal projects may hit roadblock
Kalyan Ray, New Delhi, April 2, DH News Service :

The country's ambitious thermal power generation targets over the next few years to meet the acute shortages as well as the rapidly growing demand may hit an environmental roadblock.

Jairam RameshThe reason: the coal deposits may be there in abundance but it may not be possible to mine the fuel. Almost one-third of the country's top grade coal reserve would not be available for mining as these areas are now considered to be ecologically too fragile to allow mining.

New coal mines can come up in the remaining areas but even here automatic approval may not be possible any longer.  Before getting the required nod for mining, the mine-owners have to come up a good remediation plan for the surroundings which would be damaged by the mining activities.

Further, if the mining involves displacement of forest-dwellers, rules under the forest rights act would have to be satisfied before getting the environment and forest clearances. The environment clearance will come from the Centre whereas the forest clearance would be given by the state concerned.

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who surveyed nine major coalfields recently,  informed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week that 35 per cent areas would be "no-go" areas for mining. In these areas mining must not be allowed under any circumstances, he told the Prime Minister. Mining activity can go on only in the remaining 65 per cent areas.

The nine coal fields are: North Karanpura, IB Valley, Singaurali, Talcher, West Bokaro, Wardha, Mandraigarh, Hasdeo and Shoagpur. They are located in six states – Chhattishagrh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The Cabinet has been informed that henceforth coal mining projects would get the approval based on the ultimate production capacity thereby obviating the need for repeated clearances when expansion takes place.

Ramesh has claimed that  Coal Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal was on board with the new plan and officials from environment ministry would be a part of the approval process when Coal India allocates new blocks for mining. India's coal demand is set to rise as the country will be adding 50,758 MW capacity during the 11th plan, out of which 15,208 MW has already been installed. The new projects include the five ultra-mega power plants as well. The 12th plan targets are equally ambitious as the Union power ministry has worked out a scheme to add another 78,700 MW out of which more than 50,000 MW would be thermal.

Ramesh has, however, felt that blocking 35 per cent of coal-bearing areas would not be a limiting factor if the required forest clearance for new mines came quickly from states. This, however, remains a bottleneck. Jharkhand, for instance, is notorious in delaying forest clearance.