Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) is hopeful of Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) granting the final forest clearance for its largest iron ore mine at Daitari by the end of March or in first week of April, enabling it to expand production from 0.6 million tonne to 3 million tonne a year.
“We are hopeful that the stage-II forest clearance would be received by the end of March. The expansion programme would follow soon after that,” said Saswat Mishra, chairman-cum-managing director (CMD) of OMC.
The state-run miner had received the stage-I forest clearance in January this year, amid a series of clearances expedited by new MoEF minister, M Veerappa Moily after the exit of Jayanthi Natarajan from the ministry.
An application sent by OMC to divert 322.8 acre forest land adjacent to its existing iron ore mines at Daitari had reached the MoEF in October last year with the recommendation of the state government and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). However, the clearance was pending for unknown reasons until January, when Moily cleared the application.
Usually, the final forest approval for a project comes several months after the stage-I clearance is granted. But since the MoEF is now functioning under a pro-active minister, OMC officials are confident that the clearance would be obtained soon.
With 50 million tonnes deposit of iron ore, the Daitari mine at Talipada village under Keonjhar and Jajpur districts is OMC’s flagship operation and is responsible for providing raw material to many steel plants located inside Kalinganagar steel complex.
However, the mining activity at Daitary has dwindled significantly since September 2011, when local Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) sought an explanation from OMC over use of reserve forest land for storage of minerals and ore transportation without forest clearance, in stark violation of the Odisha Forest Act, 1972 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
When the state-run miner approached the state government to allow it use of the adjacent forest land, the government refused its request and advised it to file a forest diversion proposal.
In its forest clearance application, OMC had requested that the 342.8 ha forest area adjacent to its mining site be diverted for non-forest use like storage of the minerals. Sources said, the former minister Natrajan was sitting over the clearance proposal for last four months even after the EAC had given its mandate in favour of OMC.
As a result, OMC had to slash iron ore output due to lack of storage area. In 2012-13, the Daitari mines recorded production of 703,440 tonnes of ore, less than its usual production of 2 million tonne per year (MTPA). After the grant of forest clearance, output would be raised to 3 MTPA , as per OMC plans.