Ministry approves diversion of 595 hectares of forest land for mining

Over-ruling the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) for the second time in a row, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has approved diversion of 595 hectares of forest land for mining in the Chiria mine area in Paschimi Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

The mines will supply iron ore to the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) for the next 20 years. Chiria lies in a left-wing extremist affected region with a substantial tribal population.

A “maharatna”

The Minister described SAIL as a “maharatna” public sector company, with a good track record of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and as such deserving of special treatment “even in this era of a certain economic orthodoxy.” The CSR activities by SAIL could help in the socio-economic development of this region, particularly of the Ho community, the Minister wrote in an order.

The order stated that there was an urgency to accord approval given the long lead times involved in starting production in an area that is not easy to work in because of various factors.

However, the approval comes with conditions like only mining and primary and secondary crushing should take place in the forest area, while processing, beneficiation, blending, stockpiling, railway siding, infrastructure and all township facilities will be 15 km away in a non-forest area. Only conveyor systems should be used for ore transportation. As much as Rs. 20 crore over the next five years should be given by SAIL for wildlife management and bio-diversity-related programmes in the Saranda Forest Division and at least 2 per cent of the net profit earmarked for CSR activities.

The Chiria mine complex covers 2,376 hectares, which is about 3 per cent of the entire Saranda forest area. Of this, around 194 hectares (8 per cent) has already been broken up.

The proposal was for renewal of permission to mine in the 194 hectares and diversion of an additional 401 hectares (17 per cent).

Over the next 50 years, around 40 per cent of the iron ore requirement of SAIL will be met from the Chiria mines as this is the only compact deposit available to the company. Its plants at Bokaro, Burnpur, Durgapur and Rourkela will have to be run on the ore coming from Chiria once the mines presently feeding them are depletesd in 10-12 years. Hence, giving permission only for renewal would be grossly insufficient for SAIL's raw requirement.

Given the ecological sensitivity of the Saranda forest area, the MoEF will assume direct responsibility and set up a multi-disciplinary expert group that will monitor and evaluate compliance and concerns relating to the impact of mining on elephant habitats and migratory routes.

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