Cleared for growth

Published: Saturday 15 October 2011

Cleared for growth

Are environment and forest clearances a hindrance to development in the country?

imageNo, says a study by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment. The study analyses the environment and forest clearances granted during the 11th Five Year Plan, from April 2007 till August 2011.

The pace of such clearances during this period has been unprecedented. The study makes another important point: none of the clearances is granted keeping in mind the cumulative impact the projects will have on land, water, ecology and people

Forest Diversions

  • In the past four years India has lost about 204,425 hectares (ha) of forest to development projects
  • Since 1981 when the Forest Conservation Act was enacted, 1,198,676 ha of forests have been diverted. Twenty-five per cent of the total diversions have been in the past five years
  • Mining and power plant account for nearly 40 per cent of the total forest diversion since 1981
  • The year 2009 saw the biggest forest diversion of 87,884 ha


In the past five years 106 cement plants with production capacity of 190 MTPA got environment nod. At the end of the 10th Five Year Plan, the installed capacity was 179 MTPA. The clearance was more than double this capacity

Exceeding Targets

  • Some 181 coal mines, 267 thermal power plants, 188 iron and steel plants, 361 non-coal mining projects and 106 cement plants have been granted clearances by the environment ministry in the past five years
  • India produced 537 million tonnes of coal in 2010. In the past five years, the environment ministry has granted clearances to double the coal production capacity. This despite companies producing much less than their reserves. Coal India Limited, for instance, has 64 billion tonnes of reserve, but produces only 500 million tonnes per annum (MTPA)
  • The 11th and 12th five year plans envisage power capacity addition of 50,000 MW and 100,000 MW. But since 2007, clearances have been given to 267 power plants with a capacity to produce 210,000 MW. This means additional 60,000 MW of capacity has already received clearance but the actual capacity that has been installed is only 32,000 MW. The additional capacity would double the country’s power capacity once commissioned. Coal-based power plant capacity will almost double from the current 100,000 MW to 176,000 MW
  • As many as 106 cement plants with production capacity of 190 MTPA were granted clearance. At the end of the 10th Five Year Plan, the installed capacity was 179 MTPA. The clearance will more than double this capacity, taking it to 369 MTPA, which is also double the target set for the 11th Five Year Plan
  • Some 188 steel plants were granted clearances adding 29 MTPA of sponge iron capacity and 89 MTPA of steel capacity. In 2010, India produced about 65 MTPA of steel and 21 MTPA of sponge iron
  • The cumulative land requirement for all these projects is 400,000 ha which is about three times the area of Delhi. Coal mining will take up 150,000 ha followed by 120,000 ha of non-coal mining
  • The cumulative water requirement for all these projects is 8.3 million cubic metres per year. This is sufficient to meet the daily water needs of 250 million people. Thermal power plants alone will consume 84 per cent of this water
  • Critically polluted areas identified by the environment ministry have not been spared either. Chandrapur in Maharashtra, for instance, is set to get thermal power capacity of 2,600 MW along with cement capacity of 8.1 MTPA
  • Clearances were granted to Korba in Chhattisgarh, another critically polluted area, for 10,500 ha of coal mine lease area, 4,200 MW of thermal power capacity and over 4,000 ha of non-coal mine lease area. Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh faces a similar fate with clearance granted to about 7,000 MW of thermal power capacity and over 7,000 ha of coal mine lease area. Considering these districts are critically polluted as per the environment ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board, such huge amounts of clearances will only aggravate pollution

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