Modi Govt to Reduce Penalty for Late Payment of Coal Royalties, Forest Diversion Rules Diluted

News Click | Ayaskant Das | 29 Jul 2022

Penalties for delayed payment of royalties will be halved; new rules allow bypassing Gram Sabhas before diverting forest lands.

New Delhi: Even as big corporate entities have queued up to acquire mining rights over coal blocks from which they can sell the extracted minerals at the highest prices, the Modi government has proposed to halve the penalty rate that is binding upon leaseholders for failing to pay their royalties in time. The existing rate of 24% interest against delay in payments of royalties or rents to the Central government against minerals extracted from coal mines will be reduced to 12%.

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Modi Govt’s Coal Mining Expansion Spree Keeps Local Communities Away from Decision-making

News Click || Ayaskant Das || June 26, 2022

In the recent past, project proponents have been falling back on a 2017 rule to expand existing coal mines incrementally without consulting local communities.

New Delhi: In a worrying trend that is indicative of the Modi government’s indifference towards local communities affected by industrial development, no public hearings were conducted for as many as six out of the nine coal mining projects that were provided environment clearances for expansion in the first half of 2022. The combined expanded capacity of the six projects is 200% higher than that of the three projects for which public hearings were conducted.

The six projects which were cleared without public hearings account for a capacity addition of 10.70 million tons per annum (MTPA) to the country’s coal mining sector, shows an analysis of data contained on the website of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC). On the other hand, the total expansion in capacity of coal mining projects for which public hearings were conducted is 5.35 MTPA.

“The very concept of awarding prior Environmental Clearances without conducting public hearings is dubious enough even though it is done by properly following rules. The rules followed to procure clearances in this manner do not take into account special provisions available to local communities in areas which, owing to the preponderance of tribal population in them, have been identified as Schedule 5 under the Constitution of India,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P), an alliance of individuals and communities affected by mining.

Coal-mining industries are bypassing the process of public hearings by resorting to a rule introduced by the Modi government in September 2017. The rule – introduced through the MoEF&CC in the form of an office memorandum – allows for an incremental increase in the capacity of coal mining projects, up to a maximum limit of 40%, without necessarily having to conduct public hearings.

In the first six months of 2022, the MoEF&CC provided Environmental Clearance to seven new coal mining projects with a combined capacity of 55.81 MTPA. The Siarmal Opencast Coal Mining Project in Sundergarh district of Odisha – undertaken by the public sector Mahanadi Coalfields Limited – accounts for whopping capacity addition of 50 MTPA. If this large project is discounted from the list of new coal blocks that have been provided environmental clearance for mining, the proportion of capacity addition in terms of expanding existing projects is nearly double that of new projects. Total capacity addition to the country’s coal sector in terms of expansion of existing mines has already touched the figure of 11.35 MTPA so far this year.

As per a study released recently by the New Delhi-headquartered Legal Initiative for Forests & Environment (LIFE), in the past three years spanning the period between 2019 and 2022 at least 18 coal mining expansion projects were cleared without public participation. These include six projects in 2019, five projects in 2020 and seven projects in 2021. These 18 projects accounted for total capacity addition of 39.834 MTPA to the coal sector during 2019-21.

“This issue is of great concern as during 2021, almost 50% of Capacity increase of Expansion projects coming for EC under the provision of clause 7(ii) of EIA Notification, 2006, has been granted EC without any sort of public participation,” states the LIFE report.

The report further highlights that between the years 2019 and 2021, the MoEF&CC provided Environmental Clearances to as many as 38 coal mining projects. These include 11 projects (five new, six expansion) in the year 2019 while 12 projects (three new, nine expansion) were provided Environmental Clearances in 2020. In the year 2021, the ministry provided Environmental Clearances to 16 coal mining projects (four new, 12 expansion).

However, by the first half of 2022, the ministry has already provided 16 Environmental Clearances out of which seven are for new projects while nine are for expansion of already existing projects. Given the pace at which coal blocks are being opened up for mining in gross disregard for climate change and the negative environmental impacts thereof, a section of experts has already begun arguing for totally moving away from fossil-fuel-based energy sources.

“Any new investment in coal mining is not only destroying our biodiversity, ecosystems, forests and livelihoods of forest dwellers but is also adding to stranded assets in the sector in a manner akin to that which has happened in the power generation sector over the past two decades. We already have enough coal mining capacity which is either operational, under development or has already been granted Environmental Clearances. Future growth in energy demand will and should be fulfilled by renewable energy sources. There is no need for giving new clearances to ecologically destructive projects like coal mining,” said Sunil Dahiya of the independent research organization Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

However, coal-based energy sources continue to account for nearly 50.7% of the total installed power generation capacity of the country while the capacity of installed renewable energy sources lags behind at less than 40%. In times of extraordinary increase in demand for electricity consumption, like the one witnessed between March and June this year when prices of imported coal simultaneously sky-rocketed, the government had to naturally fall back on increasing production and transportation of domestic coal. Environmental Clearances for all new seven new coal mining projects were also provided during this period, that is, between March and June.

Nevertheless, barring local communities from having their say vis-à-vis large coal mining projects is a practice that has been followed by governments cutting across party lines and ideologies. The practice, apparently perceived as beneficial for the corporate sector, was put in place by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in December 2012 when, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, as it was called under the UPA government, exempted public hearings for coal mining projects seeking to expand 25% of the production capacity. This policy which was also issued through an Office Memorandum permitted only a “one-time expansion” with a ceiling of 2 MTPA if the extracted coal was to be transported by road and a ceiling of 5 MTPA if it was to be transported by the railway network. Just ahead of the general elections of 2014, the UPA government extended the provision of exemption from the public hearings for one-time expansion of coal mines with a capacity of up to 8 MTPA to 50% or 1 MTPA, whichever was higher. The extension was provided through an Office Memorandum that was issued in January 2014 by the environment ministry.

After BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was elected to power, the MoEF&CC issued another Office Memorandum on May 30, 2014, extending the provisions of the notification issued in January 2014 to those coal mines as well that had already expanded their production capacity as a one-time measure following the notification of December 2012. The NDA government issued another office memorandum in July 2014 empowering the MoEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee, a panel that conducts appraisals of industries likely to impact the environment, to decide on exempting those coal mining projects, where the capacity exceeded 16 MTPA, from public hearings to a ceiling of up to 5 MTPA. This was applicable in cases where extracted minerals were not to be transported by road.

The practice of easing procurement of Environmental Clearances for mining activities by issuing amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 through mere Office Memoranda was flagged by the National Green Tribunal while delivering its verdict in a case in September 2015.

“ … the [EIA] Notification mandates the requirement of “prior Environmental Clearance” without exception. However the entire mandate of prior Environmental Clearance has not only been diluted but completely rendered infructuous or ineffective by issuance of these impugned Office Memoranda. Therefore, the Office Memoranda stated to “guidelines”, are potently destructive of the Notification of 2006,” the tribunal had stated in the judgement issued on 7 July 2015.

Nevertheless, since the issuing of this judgement, the Modi government has not limited exemptions for public hearings to the coal mining sector alone. The exemption has been extended to the mining of other minerals including iron, manganese, bauxite and limestone. On 20 October 2021, the Modi government exempted five-star rated mining firms extracting iron, manganese, bauxite and limestone from public hearings while expanding production capacity by as much as 20 per cent. This exemption, which was again issued through an Office Memorandum, holds “written submissions” from affected communities and individuals as measures adequate enough in so far as public consultations are concerned.

Name of the ProjectLocationProject ProponentCapacity of New Projects granted EC (MTPA)Capacity Increase of Projects granted EC for Expansion (MTPA)Capacity increase of Projects granted Expansion under Sep 2017 OM (MTPA)
Kathara Opencast Coal MineBlock Bermo, District Bokaro (Jharkhand)Central Coalfields Limited1.9  
Bharkunda OCPTehsil Patratu, District Ramgarh (Jharkhand)Central Coalfields Limited2.05  
Jamadoba Underground Coal MineTehsil Jharia, District Dhanbad (Jharkhand)Tata Steel Limited0.34  
Brahampuri Coal Mine ProjectTehsil Parasia, District Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh)Birla Corporation Limited0.36  
Chhal Opencast coal miningTehsil Dharamjaigarh, District Raigarh (Chhattisgarh)South Eastern Coalfields Limited 2.5 
Bikram Opencast cum Underground Coal MineTehsil Burhar, District Shahdol (Madhya Pradesh)Birla Corporation Limited0.36  
Vakilpalli Mine (VKP) Underground Coal Mining ProjectMandal Kamanpur, District Peddapalli (Telangana)Singareni Collieries Company Limited0.35  
Siarmal Opencast coal mining projectDistrict Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited50  
Jawahar Khani– 5Mandal Yellandu, District Bhadradri Kothagudem (Telangana)Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) 1 
Makardhokra- I OC mine (Phase-I)Tehsil Umrer, District Nagpur (Maharashtra)Western Coalfields Limited  1.4
Amadand Opencast Coal MineTehsil Kotma, Annuppur (Madhya Pradesh)South Eastern Coalfield Limited 1.85 
Garjanbahal OC mineTehsil Hemgir, District Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited  2.6
Kulda Opencast Coal Mine ProjectTehsil: Hemgir, District Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited  2.8
Manuguru Opencast coal mining ProjectManuguru Mandal, Bhadradi Kothgudem District, TelanganaSingareni Collieries Company Limited  0.30
Parsa East and Kanta Basan (PEKB) Opencast Coal MineTehsil Ambikapur, District Sarguja (Chhattisgarh)Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd  3
North Urimari OCPTehsil Barkagaon, District Hazaribagh (Jharkhand)Central Coalfield Limited  0.60
   55.815.3510.7

Odisha: SAIL mining expansion public hearing concludes amid pollution fears

The New Indian Express | June 24, 2022
The public hearing was organised by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) and Sundargarh administration at Ispat high school playground in Koida’s Tensa village.

ROURKELA: The public hearing for environmental clearance against mining expansion proposal of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) concluded in Sundargarh’s Koida block on Wednesday amid opposition by an environmental group over soil and river water pollution fears.

The public hearing was organised by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) and Sundargarh administration at Ispat high school playground in Koida’s Tensa village. The meet, which lasted around five hours, was presided over by Sundargarh ADM RN Sahu. Of the at least 57 representations received during the hearing, most supported the expansion proposal.

However on Tuesday, Lokshakti Abhiyan president and environment activist Prafulla Samantara sent an objection letter to the OSPCB member secretary over the public hearing. Samantara alleged that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report on mining of 750 million tonne of iron ore over 40 years in Barsuan, Taldihi and Kalta mines of SAIL in Koida was not properly and scientifically prepared. He claimed that the report lacked data and studies on pollution and loss of green cover besides impact on human health, local fauna and flora and the rich bodiversity of nearby Khandadhar waterfall.

As per the report, water will be consumed from Kuradih Nullah and Najkura Nullah which would result in depletion of water level of Karo river and ultimately Brahmani river, Samantara alleged and claimed that no gram sabha approval was taken for diversion of huge forest area in violation of the PESA Act while provisions of the Forest Rights Act were also flouted.

Sources said during the public hearing, a supporter of PESA movement in the tribal-dominated district entered the venue and claimed violation of PESA Act in the proposed expansion. SAIL has proposed expansion of iron ore production from 8.05 million tonne per annum (MTPA) to 16 MTPA along with handling of topsoil/overburden/inter-burden of 3.92 MTPA and sub-grade dumps/tailings of 2 MTPA requiring total excavation of 22 MTPA.

Further, SAIL proposes to install dry processing plants of 7 MTPA and 4 MTPA for Taldihi and Kalta iron mines respectively, expansion of the existing 3.5 MTPA beneficiation plant to 4 MTPA along with adequate loading and siding infrastructure in the amalgamated mine lease area of 2,558.85 hectare (ha) of the 2,564.323 ha at Tantra and Bahamba villages besides Toda reserve forest. SAIL sources claimed that forest clearance for 2,419.871 ha and 138.710 ha of non-forest area of its 2,564.323 ha mining lease area has already been obtained.

Centre Trying to Create ‘Rubber Stamps’ for Faster Wildlife Clearance, Says Parliamentary Panel

News Click | Ayaskant Das | 24 May 2022
Experts say amendments proposed to Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 are part of a policy to promote ease of doing business.

New Delhi: A Parliamentary panel headed by former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has criticised an attempt by the Narendra Modi-led government to tweak India’s wildlife protection laws. The changes are being made to secure definitive approvals for industrial projects in ecologically fragile areas rich in flora and fauna, the panel said.

In a report recently submitted to the Parliament, the panel has noted that committees constituted for wildlife clearances at the state level, as envisaged by the central government, might end up as mere “rubber stamps” if independent members are not included in them.

The panel, a 29-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, recommended the inclusion of at least three institutional members and the Director of Wildlife Institute of India into these committees. In its evaluation of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill 2021, the panel expressed apprehension that the state-level panels that have been proposed “will be packed with official members, and may end up being a rubber stamp for faster clearances of projects.”

Conservationists and experts have, at the same time, cast aspersions on the draft Bill for its potential to enable corporates extraction of precious natural resources of the country after sidelining local communities.

The panel has recommended the inclusion of at least one-third of all non-official members of the respective State Boards of Wildlife (SBWL) into the aforementioned proposed state-level committees. Through the amendment Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in December 2021, the central government has sought to empower each SBWL to constitute its own Standing Committee for the purpose of “exercising certain delegated powers and duties”. However, as per the Bill, these standing committees will consist of the vice-chairperson and member-secretary of the respective SBWL. A maximum number of ten additional members can be inducted into the Standing Committee by the vice-chairperson from amongst the members of the SBWL, the Bill further suggested.

“The Bill again envisages that each Board or its Standing Committee will be free to create various committees, sub-committees or study groups from time to time for the proper discharge of functions. It is necessary that the respective SBWL approves all recommendations or decisions by these committees or sub-committees before implementation,” said Debi Goenka of the Mumbai-based environmental organisation Conservation Action Trust. He further said, “But firstly, over-arching powers proposed to be assigned to the vice-chairperson of respective SBWLs in the appointment of Standing Committees should be curtailed. Members of each Standing Committee should either be appointed by the National Board for Wildlife or the respective SBWL.”

The proposal to constitute standing committees of state-level wildlife boards, by amending the Wildllife (Protection) Act, 1972, comes in the backdrop of the fact that the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has not met even once after the formation of its Standing Committee in the year 2014. As per the Act’s provisions, this central-level Board has to mandatorily meet at least twice a year. Immediately after being elected to power following the massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general elections of 2014, one of the first tasks undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to reconstitute the composition of the NBWL and constitute a Standing Committee for the purpose of conducting appraisals of infrastructure projects located in areas rich in wildlife.

“We have further suggested imposition of a ban on the use of mechanical earth moving equipment within protected areas, for example, wildlife sanctuaries or reserved forests, except in exceptional circumstances like natural disasters. This is intended to discourage civil works within the protected areas which seem to be proliferating because of liberal availability of funds with forest departments for the purpose of compensatory afforestation,” Goenka further added.

The Bill has also been criticised for the attempt to reduce the number of Schedules – containing lists of protected species of plants and animals – from the original Act.

At present, the Act has six Schedules in all; one is devoted exclusively to specially protected plants and four are dedicated to specially protected animals, while another schedule contains a list of vermin species. (Vermin refers to parasitic animals that carry disease or destroy food).

However, the amendment Bill seeks to reduce the total number of schedules to four: the number of Schedules for specially protected animals has been sought to be reduced to two, with one containing a list of species that need greater protection. The Bill completely eliminates the Schedule containing a list of vermin species and instead seeks the introduction of a new Schedule for specimens listed in the Appendices under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

A number of environmental organisations, including the Conservation Action Trust, have recommended a separate Act to implement the CITES provisions, which is a multilateral treaty to regulate the international trade of species of endangered plants and wildlife to ensure their survival. However, the Jairam Ramesh-headed panel, on its part, recommended an amendment to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, to implement the provisions of CITES in India.

“The [Parliamentary Standing] Committee [has] observed that amending the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 would be the most appropriate way of implementing CITES, as the mandate of CITES is sustainable use of biodiversity. It also observed that the approach under the Bill will make the principal Act complicated and might introduce contradictions,” the panel noted in its report.

As the name suggests, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 contains provisions to conserve biological diversity in India, sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of benefits from biological resources.

In its present form, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 entrusts the responsibility of controlling, managing, and maintaining wildlife sanctuaries with each state government’s respective Chief Wild Life Warden. The Bill envisages the discharge of these responsibilities according to sanctuary-specific management plans. These plans will be prepared as per guidelines of the central government after due consultation with concerned Gram Sabhas in areas with predominantly tribal populations; in such places, provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – known popularly as the Forest Rights Act, 2006 – are applicable.

“Interestingly, the Bill speaks about local self-governance in Schedule 5 areas with respect to Gram Sabhas under Forest Rights Act but omits mention of the PESA Act [Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996],” Rebbapragada Ravi of MM&P (mines, minerals and PEOPLE), an alliance of individuals and communities affected by mining, told the Newsclick. Ravi added, “It is a fact too well known that areas rich in wildlife in India are also those that not only have a pre-ponderance of various Scheduled Tribe communities but are also rich in rare and precious natural resources like minerals. This move is indicative of the trend to concentrate power with the central and state governments and make it easy for the mining industry to acquire and expand their operations under the policy of ease of business. The central government is paving the way for corporates to easily exploit minerals in the country, by a series of amendments to the environmental and mining regulatory regime in India,”

The PESA Act is a law enacted by the Union government to ensure local self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in Scheduled Areas of the country. Scheduled Areas are notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India for their economic backwardness and predominance of the Scheduled Tribe population.

The move to amend the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 comes close on the heels of largescale changes to laws governing forest conservation in the country as proposed by the central government. The Centre has proposed to do away with several regulatory requirements needed to divert forestland for non-forest use in a draft amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which was released in October last year.

Conservationists had earlier flagged amendments proposed to forest laws on the ground that it was intended to benefit corporates in the ease of doing business.

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