The Talabira mines have now hit the green hurdle. The mines were at the centre of controversy through October over whether the Prime Minister was right in jointly allocating them to Aditya Birla group firm, Hindalco.
But now the empowered panel of the environment ministry has sent the joint venture company a series of queries before it is willing to consider giving a license to Talabira II to operate.
The development has embarrassed the finance ministry too as it is one of the projects which has been taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Investment.
The expert appraisal committee of the green ministry is baulking at diversion of 1,038 hectares of forest land to commence operations in the block. The committee is not satisfied with the environment data furnished by the companies for the captive mine located in Orissa’s Ib Valley.
The three way joint venture includes other than Hindalco, Mahanadi Coalfields and Neyveli Lignite Corp.
The committee has said the study conducted by the companies to certify the air quality level in their project area is inadequate and has asked them to conduct a “cumulative assessment” study covering all units in the core and buffer zone.
Hindalco had made a pitch for the mines about nine years ago. On an average, coal mines in India have a gestation period of ten years.
Hindalco sources had, however, said they expect a delay of another three years before Talabira II starts producing coal. The fresh requirements can now defer making the block operational by another full year as the companies will have to generate fresh data.
The three companies, including Mahanadi Coalfields had told the EAC or the expert appraisal committee on October 3 that their data on air ambiance is based on the information furnished by the government-run Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited. Also as industrial activity has hardly taken off in the area the numbers hold. But the EAC has refused to buy their contention and instead asked them to generate air quality data for one month before approaching the panel again.
In October this year CBI has registered an FIR against Aditya Birla group chief KM Birla, whose group company Hindalco holds a 15 per cent stake in the joint venture. Former coal secretary PC Parakh has also been named in the FIR by the investigating agency for allegedly overturning a decision of the screening committee, which vetted the mine’s allocation to favour Hindalco.