The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is planning to shift mining of minor minerals in areas less than five hectares (ha) into a category where no environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be required.
The move comes after chief minister of Punjab, Prakash Singh Badal, met environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan on November 21 and apprised her about the shortage of construction materials in the state. He contended that this is leading to a delay in execution of several government and private projects.
Soon after, at a press meet in Chandigarh, Badal reportedly made an announcement to this effect.
An official from MoEF, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the news. According to him Natarajan has agreed to shift the mining of minerals in areas less than five hectares to Category B2 instead of Category B1, which attracts EIA. “The minister has instructed the secretary of MoEF to take stock of the scenario in Punjab as well as other states about mining of minor minerals in area less than five hectares and shift the mining of minor minerals accordingly,” added the official.
Apart from stone and sand, brick manufacturers have been hit in Punjab following the Supreme Court directions upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to not allow excavation of top soil for brick clay mining in Punjab and other states. On November 7, the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed a public interest petition seeking exemption of brick kilns from environmental clearance. The petition was filed on the behalf of brick kiln owners and stated that brick clay should be exempted from the ban. However, the court observed that there was no mechanism in place for issuing environmental clearance to the brick kilns in Punjab, which is true for other brick producing states, too. The brick kiln owners will launch a protest from November 23 against the move.
According to All India Bricks and Tiles Manufacturers president, Arvinder Singh Chamak, MoEF has not clearly said anything about minor minerals during discussions with Punjab chief minister. “Nothing has emerged from these meetings between the ministers. We have approached the ministry of mines to exempt brick clay from environmental clearance. We will continue with the agitation as more 3,000 kilns in the state have been shut and workers are sitting idle,” he added.
On the other hand, the Punjab government had forwarded EIA reports of 95 minor mineral quarry projects for approval to the MoEF in June 2012; the ministry rejected the leases of 89 in October. According to ministry sources, in most of the villages where such mining projects were proposed, the local residents objected to mining.
As for bricks, besides extensive pollution, brick-making has caused extensive damage to agriculture in the region–a claim contested by brick manufacturers. A detailed project report of 2010 by Punjab State Council for Science and Technology, Energy Efficient Brick Kiln for the Production of Resource Efficient Bricks, states that 350 million tonnes of soil is consumed by brick industry annually in India from about 20,234 ha of agricultural land.