Environment Ministry to Ease Clearance Norms for Coal Mines

From Economic Times

The environment ministry has decided to ease its clearance requirements for existing coal mines planning to increase production. Existing coal mines with plans to increase production by as much as a quarter of its current permissible production levels will be exempt from holding public hearings as part of the environment clearance process. In an order issued on December 19, the ministry has increased the ambit of expansion projects in the coal-mining sector that will be exempted from the mandatory public hearing requirement.

Expansion in coal mining projects that do not involve additional mine lease area or a change in mining method (underground to open cast) qualify for this exemption.

The exemption can be availed if the project has held public hearings earlier “during the process of obtaining environment clearance.” This order comes at a time when the environment ministry has been under attack for delays in clearing projects.

Infrastructure ministries, particularly coal, has consistently maintained that environment ministry was delaying clearing mining projects resulting in lower coal production. This in turn affected power, steel and other industry projects, all of which a section of the government and industry claimed was derailing India’s growth.

The coal ministry in particular has since 2009 been demanding a more liberal and pro-growth environmental regulatory framework. For its part, the environment ministry has maintained that it was not holding up projects.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan maintains that her ministry and the clearance process it oversees have not held up any mining project. Instead the environment ministry has said that it has cleared coal mining projects far in excess of the Eleventh and Twelfth Plan coal production targets.

Public hearings or consultation with local stakeholders are considered to be helpful to determine the social, economic and environmental impact of the project.

Given the importance of the input of the affected people in assessing the impact of the project, public hearings were made mandatory for all projects by the 2006 regulations detailing environmental clearance norms. Prior to this, the norms were set out in 1994 regulations, which did not have a public hearing requirement.

Therefore, developers planning expansion of coal mining projects cleared in accordance with the 1994 regulations were required to undertake public hearings.

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