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Officials seek to end mining ban in dense forests

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

Prakash Javadekar

The new environment, forests and climate change minister, Prakash Javadekar, has been advised by the bureaucracy at Paryavaran Bhawan against continuing with the ban on mining in forests and moratorium on new factories in heavily polluted industrial areas.

Two officials, present at the first meeting of the minister with senior officials, on Thursday, told Business Standard these two - the no-go policy to restrict mining in dense forests and the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index-based moratorium in industrial zones - were marked out as two of the previous government's actions that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government should undo to give impetus to growth.

Sources said Javadekar remained non-committal and, instead, informed the officials that he would hold detailed discussions over the next few weeks on key issues before taking a call.

The pollution-linked moratorium continues in several industrial zones, including Ankleshwar (Gujarat), Chandrapur (Maharashtra), Pali (Rajasthan), Vatva (Gujarat), Vellore (Tamil Nadu), Najafgarh Drain Basin (Delhi) and Jodhpur (Rajasthan), for lack of improvement, though it has been progressively removed in areas where the government said improvement in pollution levels had been recorded.

The no-go policy on mining remains in suspended animation after the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government refused to accept the expert panel's report on the matter and continued to clear coal blocks on a case-to-case basis, including some in dense forests, which had been categorised as no-go zones earlier. The expert panel had drawn up a comprehensive criterion for identifying biodiversity-rich and dense forests to ban all mining activity, but it was put in cold storage eventually.

The minister heard out the officials on the two issues but did not accept or disagree with the views, sources said. The closed-door meeting lasted over three hours, with a detailed presentation made by the environment secretary, which included these two contentious and other key issues like climate change.

“It was abundant that he has a good command on the subject of climate change. He exuded confidence about leading positively at the Paris meeting in 2015 (where the global climate deal is to be signed),” said one of the two officials.

After the briefing, Javadekar unveiled the online portal for environment clearance applications, which is to be followed up with a similar one for the forest clearances, he said. Business Standard had recently reported that the online systems for project developers were being finalised for the new minister to launch upon taking over reins.

The minister was also appraised of the state of play on the Supreme Court ruling which has demanded an independent regulator to give green clearances. The matter had hit a dead block with the last UPA cabinet meeting deciding that further discussions were required with state governments as well. The central government – especially the environment ministry – has found it difficult to accept that the entire business of giving green clearances can be hived off to relatively independent panel outside at a hand’s distance from the executive even as the environment minister is answerable for the decisions in the Parliament. An amendment to the Environment Protection Act had been thought of before but the issue remains unresolved. Javadekar committed to resolving the matter soon though the SC is yet to hold another hearing on the matter.

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First Published: Fri, May 30 2014. 00:27 IST