The Coal and Environment Ministries have reached a compromise solution on the controversial “no-go” designation of coal mining blocks in forested areas, following the reported intervention of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Speaking on the sidelines of a function here on Tuesday, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said that while the final “go areas” will span 30,000 hectares more than his initial proposal, it was also 70,000 hectares lower than the original Coal Ministry proposal.

Also, it now includes some underground mines, which are environmentally preferable to the original strip mining proposals.

“It is a compromise,” Mr. Ramesh said. “This is something we can live with.”

PMO's intervention

The Ministries had undertaken a joint survey last year, superimposing maps of coal reserves onto maps of forested areas in nine coalfields. Almost half the coal blocks were placed in “no-go areas,” much to the dismay of the Coal Ministry, which reportedly appealed to the PMO, pointing out the losses in revenue and potential thermal power generation capacity. It demanded that the forest cover restrictions be made less stringent.

While the Environment Ministry proposed to put 3.49 lakh hectares into the “go” column — which would allow mine developers to apply for a clearance — the Coal Ministry demanded 4.5 lakh hectares. After a further joint analysis, the Ministries have settled on 3.8 lakh hectares, Mr. Ramesh said.

Highly placed sources said that while eight of the nine coalfields have been part of the compromise solution, the Hasdeo-Arand coalfields of Chhattisgarh have been excluded. The entire field remains firmly in the “no-go” zone, despite a proposal for an ultra mega power project in the region.

In another case of the clash between mining interests, the environment and human rights, the head of the Environment Ministry's four-member committee looking into the Vedanta mine proposal in Orissa's Niyamgiri hills visited the site on Tuesday.

The mine proposal, a joint venture between Vedanta Aluminium and the State-owned Orissa Mining Corporation, has been opposed by the local tribal population whose livelihood and culture could be affected.

According to Mr. Ramesh, the visit of National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena has been strongly opposed. Local NGOs allege that people are being intimidated from meeting or talking to Mr. Saxena, the Minister said.

The committee is scheduled to submit its report by August.

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