PM to referee coal mining row on June 7

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Subhash Narayan | New Delhi | Updated: May 30 2011, 07:33am hrs
With the group of ministers (GoM) on coal being unable to resolve the conflict within the government over the environment ministrys policy of earmarking go and no-go areas for mining, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to take a decision on the issue soon.

The PMs intervention in the matter has become all the more necessary since the shortage of coal is expected to reach almost 140 million tonnes this year.

According to officials, Singh has called a meeting of all the stakeholder ministries on June 7 to resolve issues on a fast-track basis. The meeting is expected to be attended by environment minister Jairam Ramesh, coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Incidentally, they are all part of the GoM headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that was constituted in January to resolve the inter-ministerial tussle between coal and environment ministries on how to address the issue of coal minings adverse impact on the environment. However, it has met only twice and has made little progress due to delays caused by the extended Parliament session and state assembly polls. Also, the GoM remains a divided house.

Sources said the Prime Ministers decision to hold a personal hearing on the issue has increased the chances of an early resolution.

As the PM has called a meeting on June 7, we want the GoMs third meeting to happen before that so that there is some headway on the issue and we go with concrete proposals to the PM, said a coal ministry official.

The issue had cropped up because the coal and environment ministries had jointly undertaken an exercise to overlay the forest cover map on boundaries of nine coalfields in the country and identified the coal blocks as category A (no-go areas) and category B (go areas). As per the exercice, 449 coal blocks covering about 3.8 lakh hectares were put in category B. The exercice covered 602 coal blocks spread over about 6.48 lakh hectares. Due to this, the environment ministry had categorised 203 coal blocks as no-go zones, which according to the coal ministry has stalled a potential production of about 660 million tonnes per annum.

With the ministries unable to resolve the issue for almost a year now, alarm bells have started ringing that indecision would further slow down industrial projects and add to the already gloomy picture of growth presented by the government for 2011-12. A major concern is that restrictions on coal mining will severely undermine the power capacity addition that is required to accelerate industrial growth. Already, the power ministry has brought down the capacity addition target for 2011-12 to a mere 7,675mw, the lowest single-year addition in the 11th Plan owing to coal shortage. Going ahead, it is feared that the go and no-go categorisation will further reduce availability of coal for the power sector.

Meanwhile, Ramesh has already baffled his senior colleagues in the Cabinet by stating in the full Planning Commission meeting that the panels ambitious goal to add 100,000 mw to Indias power generation capacity during the 12th Plan period (2012-17) is ecologically impossible.

Moreover, Rameshs concerns also stem from the fact that 90% of the proposed power capacity would be coal-based and would emit greenhouse gases. Also, many of the power plants and associated coal mines have to necessarily come up in tribal and forest areas. Also, coal-based power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. These plants are also huge consumers of water, a resource that is turning increasingly scarce.

The contention has, however, been rejected by the coal ministry which feels that technological progress has already reduced emissions from coal-based projects and new technologies would further make coal stations greener.