Environment Ministry defers decision

How close can mining operations be allowed near a tiger reserve?

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has posed this question to the Tamil Nadu Minerals Limited (TAMIN) while considering a proposal for mining colour granite deposits at Kodarankulam village in Ambasamudram taluk of Tirunelveli district.

For the present, the MoEF has deferred a decision on the proposal for opening a new mine for production of 5000 cubic metres per annum of colour granite in an area of 22.50 hectares.

Although there is no forest land involved in the area to be leased out, it falls within the buffer zone of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

The proposal was taken up by the MoEF to determine the Terms of Reference (TOR) for undertaking a detailed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the purpose of obtaining environmental clearance in accordance with the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006.

As per the proposal, the mining site is reported to be located at a distance of 1.2 km from the KMTR. The nature of mining will be opencast and semi-mechanised, which involves drilling and blasting.

If the distance of the KMTR falls within one kilometre from the mine lease, then the MoEF would have automatically rejected the proposal, say sources.

As the proponents have reported that the distance was 1.2 km, the MoEF has asked them to authenticate the distance on a map by the Chief Wildlife Warden or Director of the KMTR and submit it to the ministry.

As the distance of KMTR to the mine lease site is very crucial, the ministry has deferred even consideration of the proposal in the absence of verified distance, say forest department sources.

Activists are against any kind of mining operations in buffer or eco sensitive zones of tiger reserves.

“As per the MoEF directions, there can’t be any kind of mining activity in the buffer zones of the three tiger reserves in the State. Therefore, TAMIN should drop the proposal altogether,” says S. Jayachandran, joint secretary, Tamil Nadu Green Movement.

It is not clear if the State has notified the eco sensitive zones around all protected areas.

“If the State has not declared a 10-km ‘eco sensitive zone’ around every protected area in the State under the Environment Protection Act, it is imperative that it do so immediately. However, irrespective of this, any mining proposal within a 10 km radius of a Protected Area should be summarily rejected, given the enormous damage that results from mining activities,” says Shekar Dattatri, conservationist and a former member of the National Board for Wildlife.