The environment ministry will not accept any proposal for new and expansion projects in four major coal fields - Korba, Asansol, Chandrapur and Dhanbad - as no measures have been taken to reduce environmental pollution. The four coalfields are among the 18 industrial clusters with a high environmental - air, water and land - pollution.
In an order issued in late March, the ministry announced that it was extending the moratorium that has been in place since January 2010, and that the bar on projects would continue till the respective state governments began the process of implementing action plans, which had been reviewed and approved by the Central Pollution Control Board, to address pollution levels.
The 18 clusters are among the 43 industrial areas identified by the Central Pollution Control Board to have a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index of more than 70.
The March order to extend the moratorium is unlikely to go down well with the coal ministry, which has opposed the moratorium as it has resulted in production losses, and has had adverse impact on the power sector and industrial activity.
The coal ministry has argued that the high pollution index in the area was a result of industrial activity and not coal mining. It has consistently argued that mining operations do not produce the pollutants and toxins that have been considered for developing the index.
Therefore holding up coal mining operations on the basis of the CEPI would not be correct. The environment ministry doesn't agree with this reasoning. It has found that in some of the coal mining areas several of the measured pollutants and toxins are above the prescribed norms.
Last month minister of state for coal Pratik Prakashbapu Patil informed members of Parliament that the environment ministry's decision to impose a moratorium on new and expansion projects in areas having Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index above 70, had further delayed Coal India's projects and resulted in downward revision of its production targets.
At deliberations of the Group of Ministers on environmental concerns and mining, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is understood to have made it clear that her ministry's position on the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index was non-negotiable.
Though as a compromise, Natarajan had offered to look into coal projects on a priority after the mitigation plans are approved. The coal ministry is pushing for a case-by-case approach in these areas. It has argued that since pollution index in the coalfield area was much below the critical level, new mining projects in these coalfields should be allowed.
The CPCB had undertaken a comprehensive environmental assessment of 88 important industrial clusters. Following which the environment ministry had announced that it would not consider proposals for new projects in these clusters, as it would have adverse impact on the air, water and land quality.
Between October 2010 and July 2011, the ministry lifted the moratorium on 25 critically polluted clusters after the action plan to improve the environmental conditions were adopted. The CPCB will also review the implementation of the approved action plans for the 25 critically polluted clusters.