Environment ministry firm on 'no-go' zones

Says mining in no-go zone against Forest Conservation Act

By Ruhi Kandhari
Published: Tuesday 15 February 2011

The Union ministry of environment and forests has reiterated its stand against mining in coal fields demarcated 'no-go' zones. In response to the coal ministry's advice to allow mining in all coal-bearing areas, the environment ministry said it will be against the letter and spirit of the Forest Conservation Act.

The coal and environment ministries had jointly undertaken an exercise to mark 'go' and 'no-go' areas for mining in nine coal fields in June 2010. As per the parameters set by the ministries, of the 582 coal blocks over 600,000 hectares, 49 per cent were declared no-go zone, where mining could be carried out in compliance with the environment and forest laws. The coal ministry and the Prime Minister's Office opposed this.

The environment ministry re-examined the classification of coal blocks into the two categories. This time, 23.27 per cent of the area was declared no-go zone. But even after the revised study was appreciated by the committee chaired by B K Chaturvedi, a member of the Planning Commission, the coal ministry proposed that the zone classification should not be implemented. In December, it wrote to the Cabinet secretary asking it to “consider all coal blocks without reference to go and no-go areas”, arguing that coal blocks in the no-go zone had already been allocated to mining and power companies. (See: Let forests be mined: coal ministry, Down To Earth, Dec 16-31, 2010).

The Chaturvedi committee had recommended that the coal ministry gave alternative coal blocks to those allocated such blocks in the no-go zone.

Now the environment ministry has written a note that the coal ministry's proposal should not be agreed to since “even after best efforts in afforestation and reclamation, it will not be possible to retrieve their (rich forests under no-go zone) intricate biological features and biodiversity”. The ministry stated, “A decision to ignore findings of the study, based on objective parameters, may invite judicial intervention.”

Environment ministry's defence

The environment ministry noted the study was undertaken in only nine coal fields across the country and the no-go zone in these fields constitutes just eight per cent of the potential coal-bearing areas in India. “The coal that may be extracted from the coal-bearing areas that have not been classified as category A (no-go zone) so far may not be sufficient to meet the current demand,” the letter said. The ministry has suggested that this reserve can be considered for meeting urgent safety and security needs of the country.

It also noted that the suggestion to scrap the concept of go and no-go zones will make it almost mandatory for the environment ministry to divert forests for each coal block allotted. If the coal ministry's demand is agreed to, it will open flood gates for similar demands from other ministries, “causing irreparable damage to the forest and wildlife health of the country”.

The coal ministry had also stated in its note that often delays in securing environment and forest clearances adversely impact the investments in the mining and power sectors. The environment ministry replied that the major cause of delay is incomplete proposals from the user agencies. “Since decision on forest diversion cannot be taken without the required documents like compliance report, a substantial time is lost in procuring the documents,” the letter stated.

Civil society unhappy

Representatives of 27 civil society organisations, lawyer-activists and journalists have registered their protest by writing to the prime minister against the coal ministry's stand. “From the initial classification of nine blocks in March 2010, where no-go zones constituted 49 per cent of the total area, it has already been reduced to 23.27 per cent. The environment ministry is succumbing to pressure from various ministries and drastically reducing the areas demarcated as no-go zones,” said one of the protesters, Preethi Herman, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace.

The open letter to the prime minister stated: “This issue is being looked at only through the lens of a loss of industry investment in the regions concerned. The ministry of environment’s initiative to classify areas as no-go zones for coal mining is a first step to protecting India’s forests, forest dependent communities and wildlife in the nine coal fields under discussion from the devastating consequences of coal mining.”

Initial classification and current status of ‘no-go’ and ‘go’ zones

  Total land Total Blocks Total land No of Blocks % of Land Total land No Of Blocks % of Land

Initial classification  in May 2010

6,52,572 hectare


3,20,684 hectare



3,31,888 hectare


Present classification after revised parameters 6,02,850 hectare  582 1,40,311 hectare  105  23.27
4,62,539 hectare  477 76.72



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