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Red signal on green nods still holds up coal projects

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan?s claim of awarding clearances to projects which will double coal production in the country may not hold true completely as many projects are awaiting environment and forest clearances from her ministry.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan?s claim of awarding clearances to projects which will double coal production in the country may not hold true completely as many projects are awaiting environment and forest clearances from her ministry.

Natajaran?s recent letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing the setting up of a National Investment Board said that environmental clearances had been granted to 181 coal mines with a total capacity of 83 million tonnes per annum during the 11th Plan period up to August 2011 ? doubling India?s current capacity. In addition, 113 coal mines had been granted permission to divert 26,000 hectares of forest land for industrial use.

However, coal ministry data suggest otherwise. A coal ministry office memorandum dated September 13 attributes the delay to lack of forest clearance (FC) in almost every second project. In fact, in many cases, slow FC has been cited for delayed land acquisition. Other reasons cited for delay or expected delay are deferred construction of railway siding, issues related to shaft sinking, widening and deepening or even delays in finalisation of global tenders or even difficult geo-mining conditions.

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However, not all projects get delayed due to want of EC and FC. Another coal ministry memorandum dated August 16 tells this story well.

It reviews the major ongoing coal and lignite projects costing above Rs 1,000 crore states that Coal India?s 10 MT Amlohri Expansion project which was sanctioned in December 2009 has been delayed due to delay in procurement of 38 dumpers and shovels due to retendering.

Another 1,000 MW coal -based power project at Tuticorin is delayed because of delays in erection of boiler and turbine.

In fact, Coal India says despite getting green nods, it is unable to commission projects due to lack of other statutory clearances.

According to a senior CIL official, the Maharatna company has 600 MT worth of environment clearances and forest clearances but almost 100 MT of coal production is stopped due to lack of rail connectivity.

In the case of NTPC, its 1,980 MW in North Karanpura in Jharkhand remains stuck even though its got requisite clearances several years back. A portion of the project and mine came into the no-go area of environment ministry later. Now the problem is coming from Coal India that wants NTPC to shift its project as the site is rich in coal and a power project could hamper mining activities.

Similarly, the fate of NTPC?s 1,320 MW project at Nabinagar remains stuck due to land-related issues through it had other clearances in place. In the case of Reliance Power?s Krishnapatnam UMPP too, the project is still to take off despite having all clearances due to issues related to spurt in international coal prices and the company unable to pass the added cost in tariff. The matter is currently sub-judice.

?Besides EC and FC, we need other clearances for land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation and railway connectivity to transport coal,? the CIL official said.

?While environment and forest clearances take up a large chunk of time in a project cycle, other issues such as land acquisition, getting the right water source, project financing etc consume a lot of time. So, if we have advance EC/FC clearances, then it would only help future development of projects,? said an NTPC official asking not to be named.

Of the 100 MT of environment clearances for its underground mines, CIL has been able to utilise only 40 MT due to safety and equipment-related constraints. However, for its open cast mines, the utlisation of EC is close to 100%.

?The clearances are happening over time but the government must consider these on a case-by-case basis based on merit,? the official said, adding a total of 179 forestry proposals were awaiting forestry clearances as per CIL?s 2011-12 Annual Report. For instance, the company got an EC as recently as three weeks ago for its 8 MT project in Chhattisgarh.

?There are delays from state governments on the FC front along with incomplete applications and documents and unsatisfactory state inspections,? explained Sugandh Juneja, deputy programme manager, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Interestingly, a CSE study had last year said that the environment ministry gave out an unprecedented number of clearances in the last five years. The study found that 181 coal mines, 267 thermal power plants, 200 coal-based thermal power plants, 188 steel plants and 106 cement units were accorded clearance. Incidentally, the 11th Five Year Plan projects a target of 50,000 MW of additional thermal power capacity; while the 12th Plan asks for 100,000 MW.

The centre analysed the environment and forest clearances granted by the Indian government in the period of the 11th Five Year Plan – from 2007 till August 2011 in thermal power, hydropower, cement, iron and steel and mining sectors.

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