Do away with forest clearance to explore mining activities: Mines ministry to MoEF&CC

Since survey and investigation for mining opportunities during exploration do not cause any perceptible changes in forest land, these could be restored to their original shape, the ministry said

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Monday 05 September 2022

The Union Ministry of Mines has urged the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to do away with the requirement of forest clearance for exploration of mining activities, according to an important official.

Alok Tandon, the secretary of the mines ministry, confirmed to the Press Trust of India (PTI) during the 56th meeting of the Federation of Indian Mines and Industry September 2, 2022, that the ministry had made the suggestion.

“We have requested the MoEF&CC that exploration activity should not be treated as diversion of forest area. We are in active consultation with them … This is part of the cabinet note and we have sought public comments,” Tandon told PTI.

The proposal to keep exploration out of the ambit of forest clearances was made in a public notice calling for the amendment of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, issued by the mines ministry May 25 this year.

It said the high level committee of NITI Aayog had said “there should not be any requirement of forest clearance for undertaking exploration.”

It added that MoEF&CC had issued a consultation paper on the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

The ministry had also invited comments and suggestions from state governments and the public on the proposal that read:

Survey and investigation activities are procedures prior to considering or proposing actual non-forestry activity on forest land. In many such activities, the forest land is used for a very short time and also, there is no perceptible change in the forest land and or the biodiversity thereon.

It added:

But since such activities are considered non-forestry activity, prior approval of the central government is sought following formal procedure which, in fact, takes a lot of time. To address this, particularly in activities where the impact is not perceptible, the provisions of the Act may not be applicable.

The Union Ministry of Mines said since survey and investigation for mining opportunities during exploration did not cause any perceptible changes in forest land, and it was likely that exploration might not lead to any mining activity, the places where drilling had been done could be restored to their original shape.

“And let’s say it is only in one of 25 cases or in one of 50 cases that exploration would result in the discovery of minerals. So, it is only in one of 50 cases where the diversion of the forest will finally happen.

“So, if we exclude exploration activity and not consider it as diversion of forest area or a non-forestry activity, then exploration activity can move forward,” PTI quoted Tandon.

“No permanent diversion of forest land for non-forest activities is required for such activities and these activities are for a short duration of 3-5 years. Also, the ratio of conversion of exploration activity to mining activity is 100:1,” read the amendment proposal issued in May this year.

The proposal added that in order to enable auction of more blocks and enhance production of minerals, more exploration was required to be conducted. Hence, mining operations can be undertaken in an area only after the existence of minerals is established there. Necessary forest clearance would anyway be taken before the start of mining operations.

The proposal for amendment urged the insertion of a provision in the MMDR Act. This was so that any reconnaissance or prospecting operations undertaken within the period specified under the Act on forest land would not be considered as diversion of forest for non-forest purposes under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The state governments may prescribe the manner of granting permission for carrying out such reconnaissance or prospecting operations.

Tandon added that India was at a stage where it was witnessing a fast depletion of mineral resources and that his ministry was working on a separate policy of giving incentives for the promotion of these deep-seated minerals.

The amendment proposal also asked for dispensing with the central government’s approval before initiating the auction for composite license (CL) at the G4 stage.

The exploration for any mineral deposit involves four stages:

  1. Reconnaissance survey (G4). Reconnaissance is the preliminary examination of the general geological features and characteristics of a region
  2. Preliminary exploration (G3). Investigation carried out along certain broad features of a mineral area, with the object of deciding whether the proposition is such as to warrant a detailed exploration
  3. General exploration (G2). Establish the main geological features of a deposit and provide an initial estimate of size, shape, structure and grade of the mineral in the mine
  4. Detailed exploration (G1)

“In 2021, several amendments were made in the Act and the rules to boost exploration in the mineral sector and increasing pace of auction of blocks, including allowing auction of blocks for CL at G4 level of exploration instead of previously prescribed G3 level.

“As the level of exploration has been reduced at CL stage, it would be appropriate to remove the redundant process of obtaining previous approval of the central government before putting a block for auction of CL. This will enable the state governments to put blocks in auction for CL at faster pace. Accordingly: section 10B (2) of the Act may be amended,” the proposal read. 

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