One of the most crucial will be the Ministry’s stance on the final Shah Commission report on illegal mining

The new Environment and Forests Minister Veerappa Moily will have his plate full as he takes up the assignment on Tuesday morning. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will be one of the first State heads to meet him on Thursday.

Besides taking a call on the expected list of pending environmental clearances, Mr. Moily will have a slew of difficult decisions to take in the short tenure before him. One of the most crucial will be the Ministry’s stance on the final Shah Commission report on illegal mining, which well-placed sources say promises to embarrass the UPA government further.

The commission’s reports on Goa had landed the PMO in trouble, while the one on Karnataka had rocked the southern State’s politics. The PMO had held the Environment Ministry portfolio during the period that Shah Commission found serious violations of norms in permissions given to iron mining in the coastal State. The final report, sources said, is expected to have more on illegal iron ore mining in Odisha, which again could put the Centre on the mat besides pointing to large-scale lapses by State authorities.

Sources in the Ministry said the new Minister is expected to draw up a priority list of projects to clear within a month, keeping in mind the projects on which the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure is also focused.

Mr. Moily will also have to decide on the critical issue of forest clearances. A process to alter the forest clearance rules to make it easy for the industry to get time-bound clearances under the Forest Conservation Act had begun during the tenure of the previous incumbent Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan, with the Power Ministry putting its weight behind alteration of the rules. An on-going litigation in the National Green Tribunal has challenged the validity of the existing rules.

The Minister, who also handles the hefty Petroleum and Natural Gas portfolio, will have to take a call on a Cabinet proposal on climate change that was stuck last week, with the Planning Commission raising objections at the last moment. The Planning Commission changed its stance on the issue just before the decision was to be taken in the Cabinet, and asked for some of the new initiatives on domestic climate change policy being housed either under its aegis or the department of science and technology.

Critical decisions on nominating the members of the National Wildlife Board, the head of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Animal Welfare Board too are expected to be high on priority.

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