The Ministry of Environment and Forests has started mapping forest regions to identify “inviolate” areas, where ecologically dangerous activities such as mining may not be allowed.
At a meeting with top executives of power companies here on Wednesday, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan also promised a “transparent and consistent” policy in sanctioning environment clearances for power projects.
“We are putting together all notifications and circulars that have been issued over the years on forest and environment clearances for the power sector into a single document … so that there will be absolute clarity on our clearance policy,” she told The Hindu after her meeting with corporate tycoons including Anil Ambani, Anil Agarwal, Sajjan and Naveen Jindal, and Ashok Hinduja.
While the power sector has been complaining about hurdles to getting green clearances for mining the coal reserves which largely lie in dense forest areas, Ms. Natarajan made it clear that there were areas which must remain “inviolate” and which her Ministry had begun a process to identify.
She refused to draw comparisons with the exercise which her predecessor, Jairam Ramesh, undertook to identify “go” and “no-go” areas in the heavily forested regions of central India, which also contain most of the nation's coal reserves. Mr. Ramesh fought an 18-month battle with the Power and Coal Ministries to demarcate zones, spanning more than 3 lakh hectares, where miners would not be allowed even to apply for forest clearance. After the dispute was taken right up to the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Ramesh was forced to give up his classification.
The 2010 survey was jointly conducted with the Coal Ministry in nine major coalfields mostly in the coal-rich Chhattisgarh, before differences over the classification pushed the two Ministries into opposing positions. However, Ms. Natarajan says her mapping exercise will be conducted independently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and will cover all forested regions.
“The precise classification is yet to be decided … but some areas must be inviolate,” said Ms. Natarajan, adding it was not yet decided what percentage of forest cover would need to be present for an area to be shut off to miners.