Natarajan's task cut out: just hand over forests for mining

Chaturvedi committee says scrap Ramesh’s ‘no-go’ area system


Prasanna Mohanty | July 20, 2011

Notwithstanding the ‘spin’, post-cabinet reshuffle, explaining Jairam Ramesh's shift from the environment and forests ministry to the rural development ministry, the real purpose now stands exposed.

Days after the reshuffle, planning commission member B K Chaturvedi has submitted a report of a ‘high-level committee’ he was asked to head by the GoM on coal mining, which makes some shocking recommendations.

The most important recommendation is to scrap the system of ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ area devised by Ramesh to protect dense forests and bio-diversity zones from mining activities.

Chaturvedi argues that this system has no legal sanctity as no statutory provision exists and that it was faulty because it relied only on satellite imagery to mark ‘no-go’ areas. It supports the old method of subjective assessment of the importance of forests while clearing mining proposals.

The second one says decide mining on ‘merit’ and allow it in marginal forests and on the fringes of the forests without any restrictions as was the case earlier when road and rail links were allowed to pass through the wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves.

Third, it calls for exploring ‘underground mining’ around dense forests. Fourth, it asks for ensuring uninterrupted supply of coal mining operations, ignoring moratorium imposed under the Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index.

During his last days in office (on June 23, 2011), Ramesh had given in to the pressure. He had opened up three coal blocks in the ‘no-go’ area – Tara, Parsa East and Kante Basan in the Hasdeo-Arand bio-diversity zone  – for mining on the plea that these blocks fall in the ‘fringe’ area of the bio-diversity zone.  But when it came to Morga-II block, he refused (on July 5, 2011) saying it fell in the ‘core area’ of the same bio-diversity zone.

The signal is clear now.

The mining has to be a free-for-all affair as it was in the pre-Ramesh era.

The task for his replacement, Jayanthi Natarajan, is cut out. Since Chaturvedi’s recommendations were sought by the GoM headed by none other than de facto number two in the government, Pranab Mukherjee, it has to be followed. An inconvenient Ramesh is now out of the way.

This is precisely what the mining companies wanted. And this is what prime minister Manmohan Singh wanted to achieve - 10 percent growth in GDP.

Never mind the damage to the forest cover and its impact on the environment. And never mind the conflicts indiscriminate mining and handing over of natural resources to private companies have caused in the tribal heartland of the central India, where a full-blown civil war is going on.



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