The Union government on Thursday decided to refer to a Group of Ministers (GoM) the “tug of war” between the Coal and Environment Ministries over mining in “go” and “no-go” areas.

The decision of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) is aimed at finding a pragmatic and balanced approach towards granting environmental clearances to mining areas while ensuring that no harm is caused to ecology.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting of the CCI, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said it was decided to refer the matter to a GoM for discussions and arriving at a final opinion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would soon issue the guidelines and decide on the names of the people on the GoM.

The Coal Ministry and the Environment Ministries have locked horns in the last few months over lifting the ban on “no-go” areas. The matter was then referred to the Prime Minister's Office, which was keen on finding a permanent solution.

Informed sources said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee may head the GoM and it could include Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh, Mr. Jaiswal, Mines Minister B.K. Handique and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Last year, the Coal Ministry came up with the idea of “no-go” and “go” areas in its consultations with the Environment Ministry. Following this, the Environment Ministry defined “no-go” areas for mining as those that have over 30 per cent gross forest cover or over 10 per cent weighted forest cover. As per guidelines, mining is allowed only in “go” areas.

The “no-go” classification brought 206 coal blocks, involving a production potential of 660 million tonnes per annum (MTPA), under its ambit. This ruffled feathers in the Coal Ministry. It argued that by not permitting mining in the 206 blocks, about 1,30,000 MW potential power generation capacity would be affected. These coal blocks are spread across 4,039 sq. km in nine coalfields.

The sources said that during the CCI meeting, Dr. Singh was understood to have noted that attempts should be made to find a balance between coal reserves exploitation and environment protection.

Mr. Jaiswal, who made a presentation to the CCI on the mining issue, is understood to have talked about undertaking mining in forest areas in phases. As per the proposal, one part of a block could be opened for mining at a time, and after all its reserves are extracted, it would be afforested again while mining would move to the second part and so on.