The Coal Ministry has warned the government that the ambitious programme for exploration of 42 coal blocks identified for offer through competitive bidding during the XII Plan could be adversely hit unless the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) changes its existing guidelines for exploration with enhanced density of boreholes as majority of these blocks fall under the forest area.

In a note sent to the MoEF and the government, the Coal Ministry has stated that it has drawn up an ambitious programme for exploration during the XII Plan and this covers exploration to be taken up in 42 blocks identified for offer through competitive bidding. “Unless the guidelines of MoEF for taking up detailed exploration with enhanced density of boreholes from 1.5-2 per sq. km to 15-20 sq. km without the need for seeking prior forest approval are revised, the proposed exploration programme will be adversely affected as most of the coal blocks fall in forest areas,’’ the note states.

The note recalled that a meeting of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) was held on August 16 last year wherein the Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL) presented the findings of joint impact assessment of all three blocks, including Bijul block, and briefed the FAC about the long-pending 21 cases of forest clearance. CMPDIL requested FAC to consider revising the guidelines issued in 2008. The FAC decided to call [a meet of] officers from State governments concerned for further consideration of reports in the next meeting. However, listing of proposal for the consideration of FAC was still awaited.

In October last year, the MoEF conveyed that the FAC, after considering the proposal on August 16 last year, inter-alia recommended that they might await receipt of final report containing details of technical design of study, namely, the nature of parameters having impact on flora and fauna monitored during the study along with frequency and manner of monitoring such parameters and desired to have the information provided during the study as the report submitted did not contain such details.

However, in its reply, the Coal Ministry has contended that the reports submitted were joint study reports by CMPDIL and state forest authorities concerned and the study was as per the technical design suggested by the forest authorities and field studies were carried out jointly and the reports were exhaustive and the MoEF might consider the same in view of these facts relaxing of guidelines without any further delay.