The Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Pranab Mukherjee has decided to refer to a sub-committee headed by Planning Commission member, B.K. Chaturvedi, the issue of relocation of NTPC's 1,980 MW North Karanpura plant in Jharkhand.

The sub-committee has been asked to submit its report to the GoM within a month, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal told reporters here after an hour long meeting of the panel. “We will take a decision on the issue accordingly,” Mr. Jaiswal said.

The relocation of NTPC’s power plant has been a major bone of contention between the Ministries of Coal and Power as the plant is planned in an area that has six billion tonnes of coal reserves.

The Coal Ministry has been arguing in favour of relocating the proposed plant which is being resisted by the Power Ministry. The matter had been referred to the GoM later. The Rs. 8,000 crore NTPC project has been hanging fire for almost a decade due to a controversy over its location. The North Karanpura project, situated in Chatra district of Jharkhand, was supposed to be implemented during the current Plan period.

Jayanthi defends “no-go” zones

The GoM also deliberated on the earlier report of the Chaturvedi Committee, which said that the Environment Ministry’s demarcation of coal mining blocks in heavily forested regions into ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas had no legal validity.

According to sources present at the meeting, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan refused to compromise on this issue, insisting that some blocks would remain off-limits for mining. Whatever the classification was called – “no-go” zones or any other name – there would have to be some areas where mining could not be carried out, she insisted. However, sources added that she had expressed her willingness to consider projects of national importance on a case-by-case basis.

Her position was supported by the Finance and Home Ministers, according to sources.

Ms. Natarajan also reportedly refused any blanket relaxation of pollution norms, or regulations regarding coal linkages and project expansion, but promised to consider individual cases if necessary.

With regard to the Forest Rights Act, Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo reportedly insisted on the consent of the gram sabha as a pre-condition for a forest clearance.

However, sources said that several procedural recommendations of the Chaturvedi Committee – including time-bound and transparent clearance process, with simultaneous applications for forest and environment clearances – had now been accepted by the GoM.

The clash between the Coal and Environment Ministries regarding “no-go” zones and other environmental and forest clearance issues had prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to constitute this GoM in February.

While the Environment Ministry had put 203 coal blocks in ‘no-go’ mining areas, the Coal Ministry argued that potential coal production to the tune of 660 MT was affected due to the classification, amid ever widening demand-supply gap of the black gold. According to the coal ministry, the demand-supply gap of coal is likely to touch 137 million tonnes (MT) in the current fiscal.