Environment Ministry working out ways to make mining activities hassle-free

Richa Mishra/ Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on October 23, 2019 Published on October 23, 2019

Representative Image (file photo)   -  Reuters

A major bottleneck for Indian energy resources mining and exploration has been attaining various regulatory approvals to undertake the activities. One such approval, which is also the most important one, is environmental clearance.

Contractors have surrendered or relinquished the areas awarded to undertake hydrocarbons exploration or mining activities, due to delay in getting such clearances or at times approvals being denied.

To overcome such hurdles, the Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) has decided to come up with guidelines that will detail how much and what can be allowed for undertaking exploration activities.

Secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change CK Mishra in conversation with BusinessLine agreed that it is a very good idea to have a pre-embedded contract – where all approvals are in place before awarding the mining areas. But, when will that happen remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Ministry is working out ways by which the delays are brought down.

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"Indian Exploration and Production companies continue to face inordinate delays in getting environmental approvals, which delay their seismic survey and exploratory drilling activities thereby pushing project timelines beyond what was originally envisaged,” K. Ravichandran, Senior Vice President, Group Head-Corporate Ratings ICRA Limited.

“In many instances, the delay is due to local agitations over compensation issues and perceived threat to their livelihood. Hence, unless the environmental approval process is further streamlined, the companies will continue to face delays in their projects. In this regard, awarding the blocks after getting 100 per cent approvals by a nodal agency could be a best practice and that may be considered to speed up the exploration process," he added.

An example of local issues coupled with regulatory approvals delay is what happened in two contract areas — Karaikal in Puducherry, and Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu. There are many such examples.

On the mining (of other mineral resources) side, for example, State governments have come up with mining ban. “How can we pre-judge the mining ban,” asks Mishra. “Environment clearances are not an issue, we have initiated a process so that environment ministry is not a hindrance to mining,” he added.

Asked what the measures are he said, “We have given forest clearance and environment clearance, as long as geography and region does not change, if they want to change it they will have to come back to us. If you want to remap the area then you will have to come to us separately.”

On the debate about coal mining and its environmental challenges, Mishra said, “There are certain developmental narratives where coal will continue to remain a requirement for India. As a country we are slowly moving towards replacement, but till such time that our requirements are fulfilled, coal remains to be used. What we are insisting on is that make it more efficient – like good quality coal, good SOX, NOX levels for emissions to be kept in check, concept of washeries, etc.”

But, there were debate on washeries also, “We are for washeries. Coal with certain amount of ash content cannot be allowed. We are also saying if you are carrying coal by road let it be well covered, we prefer railways because they have those containers.”

Come to think of it, having specialised containers to carry coal by road can be a good Make in India initiative, said Mishra adding that he has been talking to Coal India about it.

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Published on October 23, 2019
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