In a further breakdown of his vaunted “no-go zone” concept to prevent mining in heavily forested areas, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has agreed to consider five coal blocks in the forests of Orissa to be moved from the “no-go” to “go” zone.
Interestingly, the decision comes on a day when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted that he had pressurised Mr. Ramesh to reverse many of his stances.
At a meeting with editors on Wednesday, the Prime Minister was asked, “Your Environment Minister is on record, saying he has had to reverse many of his positions under pressure from you?”
“I think he is right,” replied Dr. Singh.
When asked again, “Are you pressuring him?,” he answered with a quote from the Father of the nation, saying, “As Gandhiji said, poverty is the biggest polluter. We need to have a balance.”
Over a year ago, Mr. Ramesh had insisted that coal mining could not be allowed in areas with over 30 per cent gross forest cover or over 10 per cent weighted forest cover. In the months since, he has been forced to chip away at his original definition, reducing protected spaces. Last week, he granted clearance for three coal blocks in the Hasdeo Arand coalfields in some of the most thickly forested parts of Chhattisgarh, citing the “broader developmental picture.”
On Wednesday, he continued his U-turn, directing his Forest Advisory Committee to consider five coal blocks in Orissa, linked to the State and Central government-run power plants, as “go” areas.