The companies that were allotted coal blocks recently will not have to seek fresh forest clearances to go ahead with mining. The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has decided to transfer clearances obtained by past operators of the mines to the companies that have got the licences.
The environment ministry’s decision comes as a relief for the industry, which has always complained that delays in securing environment and forest clearances end up stalling projects.
“The decision was a result of recommendations of the Union coal ministry. It will make the whole process smoother and will do away with any possible delay in starting work at the mines,” said a senior environment ministry official, who did not want to be named.
The ministry of environment and forests has already issued orders for transferring leases (for diversion of forest land) of coal mines in Jharkhand’s Tokisud north block from GVK Group to Essar Power Ltd; Bicharpur coal block in Madhya Pradesh from MP State Mining Corp. to Ultratech Cement Ltd; Amelia north coal block in Madhya Pradesh from MP State Mining Corp. to Jaiprakash Power Ventures Ltd; Talabira-1 coal block in Odisha from Hindalco Industries Ltd to GMR Chhattisgarh Energy Ltd; and Pachwara north block in Jharkhand from Bengal Emta Coal Mines Ltd to West Bengal Power Development Corp. Ltd.
“This decision will not only be for the coal blocks that were recently auctioned but for all the blocks that will be auctioned in the future. There was no reason for us to start the forest clearance process afresh as that would have for sure delayed work at the coal mines,” said the environment ministry official quoted earlier.
Controversy has surrounded coal block allocations since the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in a 2012 report, estimated a notional loss of Rs.1.86 trillion to the exchequer due to a flawed allocation process. The case later reached the Supreme Court, which cancelled 204 coal mining permits awarded to firms, terming their allotment arbitrary and illegal.
Following this, the central government started auctioning coal blocks, and the government has garnered at least Rs.2 trillion from just 29 blocks, surpassing the loss figure estimated by the CAG.