The next meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on coal, which has been asked to sort out the thorny issue of mining in heavily forested areas identified as No-Go zones, will be held in mid-March.
According to sources at the GoM's meeting on Thursday, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh was given a deadline of March 15 to respond to the proposals put forward by the Steel and Coal Ministers as well as the Planning Commission with regard to forest clearances for coal mining in these areas.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee reportedly made it clear that the GoM, which he chairs, “is not here to substitute the role of the Ministry of Environment and Forests” or to replace any environmental laws.
According to the sources, the two infrastructure Ministries asked for a re-examination of the whole classification of Go and No-Go zones, urging a return to the basics outlined in the Forest Conservation Act.
The Environment Ministry, on the other hand, has always insisted that the joint study, which produced the classification, was merely a tool to help the implementation of the Act.
The survey, carried out jointly by the Ministries of Coal and Environment, originally identified 43 per cent of the area of nine major coalfields as lying in No-Go zones.
However, after a process of rationalisation, only 23 per cent of the area will lie out of bounds for coal mining.
The meeting was attended by the Ministers of Home, Finance, Coal, Steel, Power, Highways and Environment, among others.
A group of activists is demanding that vital decisions regarding the future of 12 lakh acres of forests and coal reserves should not be taken by a small group of Ministers alone: they want public consultations with all stakeholders and experts, according to a petition signed by 34,000 people submitted to the Finance Minister's office by Greenpeace activists.