To take a call on ‘go' and ‘no go' areas issue

The Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, will meet here on Thursday to work out a solution to the complex issue of ‘go' and ‘no-go' areas in coal blocks. The issue has become a subject of dispute between the Coal Ministry and the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had constituted the GoM after the Union Cabinet on January 13, decided to refer the entire matter to the GoM.

‘Go' and ‘no-go' issue

Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh and Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal had locked horns over mining in these sensitive zones. The dispute had reached the Union Cabinet after which it was decided to designate it to the GoM to come to a final resolution on the whole issue.

However, it is learnt that the Thursday's meeting will not lead to any final resolution on the whole issue and it will take some time to work out an acceptable solution. “There is no need for additional coal to meet the demand of various sectors but at the same time the issue of environment and protection of forests and habitat cannot be overlooked,'' a senior official remarked. The other members of the GoM include Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Law and Justice Minister Veerapa Moily, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Surface Transport Minister C. P. Joshi, Mr. Ramesh, Mr. Jaiswal and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

The main issue to be discussed at the meeting is in relation to the environment and forest with regard to the coal blocks besides rehabilitation and resettlement policy and offtake.

Last year, the Environment Ministry had prohibited mining in ‘no-go' areas, where the forest cover was 30 per cent. The ‘no-go' classification disallowed mining in 203 blocks with the potential of producing 660 million tonnes of coal a year.

Domestic coal demand

Despite being the third largest producer of coal in the world, India has to import 72 million tonnes to meet domestic demand last fiscal. According to the government's estimates, the requirement is likely to go up to 82 million tonnes in the current fiscal and to 142 million tonnes in 2011-12. Out of the total installed power generation capacity of 1.59 lakh MW, almost 50 per cent is based on coal.