By Ajoy K Das
KOLKATA -Stung by sharply falling growth in coal production in the country, India’s Forest and Environment Ministry has given the go-ahead to the mining of three coal blocks with a combined mineable reserve of 500-million tons, in the central province of Chattisgarh.
The clearance granted to start mining overruled the recommendations by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which had recommended the three blocks; Tara, Parsa East and Kante Basan, as `no-go’ areas for mining as the blocks were located in the Hasdeo-Arand forest, large parts of which were part of an elephant conservation programme.
All the three coal blocks were linked to proposed ultra mega power plant (UMPP) projects, denoting plants with per unit capacity of 800 MW and higher, to be located in Chattisgarh and neighboring Rajasthan province.
“FAC’s brief is to look into forest related issues and while FAC has done its due diligence, as a minister, I have necessarily to keep the broad development picture in mind and balance out different objectives and considerations,” Forest and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
“On three earlier occasions I had concurred with recommendations of the FAC and rejected mining proposals. However I now disagree with the final recommendation of the FAC for six reasons and decided to give the first stage clearance to start mining in these blocks,” Ramesh said.
The reasons cited for the change of mind by the Minister included reduction in area to be mined from 2 000 ha to 778 ha, the total number of trees to be felled 1,2-million against 8.5-million planned earlier, operational life of the mines reduced from 45 years to 25 years and all movement of coal from the mines to the power plants, 7 km away would be through overhead conveyor systems.
Since the coal blocks were linked to power plants to be constructed with super critical technology, emission levels would be between 5% and 8% lower than convention sub-critical technology that used plants of 500 MW or lower, was another reason cited by the Minister.
“The project proponents have introduced certain changes in the original mining plan and if they can show some flexibility to accommodate our concerns, I think we should too reciprocate,” Ramesh added.
However, ministry officials conceded off-the-record, that the flexibility resulted from immense pressures from Power and Coal Minister who have been expressing serious concern over falling growth in coal production that threatened to stall construction of 24 000 MW of thermal power generating capacity.
The Power and Coal Minister had also taken the issue of non-clearance of new coal mining blocks to Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh who intervened.
The mining clearance also comes just ahead of talks of an imminent reshuffle of the Indian government Cabinet of Ministers by the Prime Minister.
A communication from Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, to Ramesh quotes India’s Planning Commission’s forecast that Coal India Limited’s (CIL), the world’s largest producer, will not able to record a growth of more than 4.3% during the current Five Year Plan that ends in March 2012. This production growth would be lowest since 1974.
CIL’s production grew 5.1% to 379.4-million tons in 2007/08 6.4% to 403.7-million ton in 2008/09 and 6.8% to 431.3-million ton in 2009/10. Production recorded zero growth the next year and, according to the company, might grow not more than 3.6% in 2011/12.
CIL is India’s virtual monopoly coal producer and alone contributes 80% of domestic coal supplies of 530-million ton of which 70% is accounted by supplies for power generation and balance to other sectors like steel, cement and fertiliser. Coal India is currently negotiating to import 11-million tons of coal from Indonesia or Australia to tide over current emergency shortage in supplies.
Against this backdrop and mounting pressures from colleagues in the Cabinet of Ministers, the Forest and Environment Minister had no option but to fast track clearances of block blocks stalled by environmental issues, officials in Coal Ministry said.
Edited by Esmarie Swanepoel, Mining Weekly