Forests

MoEF opens up mining in Jharkhand's Saranda, dilutes sustainable mining plan

New modifications in the MoEF’s plan include merging mining areas and removal of the Impact Assessment clause as well as scrapping the role of the forest department in creating the mining plan

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Thursday 28 March 2019
Photo: Shruti Agarwal
Photo: Shruti Agarwal Photo: Shruti Agarwal

On the request of the Jharkhand government, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has modified its Management Plan for Sustainable Mining (MPSM) for Singhbhum and Chaibasa in Jharkhand. These regions fall within the largest sal (Shorea robusta) forest of Asia — Saranda.

The MPSM was finalised by the MoEF in June last year. The plan, among other things, created “no-mining” or “conservation” zones within the Saranda forest and capped the annual mining in the Saranda-Chaibasa region at 64 million tonnes. This was immediately followed by the state government urging the MoEF to modify the plan on August 14 last year.

The meeting to decide on these modifications was held on February 4 this year between the MoEF, Union Ministry of Mines, Union Ministry of Steel, Union Ministry of Coal and the Jharkhand government.

Down to Earth has access to the minutes of these meetings.

A slew of modifications have been made in the MPSM by MoEF like merging Zone I and II mining areas, removing of the Impact Assessment clause and scrapping the role of the forest department in creating the mining plan.

The modification has also opened up mineral blocks in the no-mining areas of Ankua and Chidia. In the MPSM, the allowing of the 13 mines in this area was dependent on the government. However, MoEF has deleted this clause to bring these under the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR).

Jharkhand had also asked the MoEF to delete the clause about the conservation areas earmarked as there are no mining areas mentioned in the MPSM. The rationale given by the state government for doing away with the conservation areas was that it would hamper the supply of iron ore in the future. To this, MoEF has recommended that it shall look into the possibility of mining in these areas using latest technologies to cause minimum destruction to the ecology.

The plan has divided the mining area into two zones – I and II. The idea was to give clearances in Zone I first and only when the mines in this zone are exhausted, the clearances for Zone II mines would be given. This stipulation of the MPSM has been done away with.

Interestingly, Tata Steel Limited has requested MoEF for the diversion of around 380 hectares of forest land belonging to Noamundi Iron ore mine, falling in the Chaibasa South Forest Division. According to the state government’s documents, the proposed area forms part of the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and around 22 hectares of the land fall under the conservation zone of MPSM.

In 2014, the MoEF had stopped giving fresh mining clearances in the area after the Shah Commission report found major violation of the MMDR by the mining companies in the area. The MoEF had mandated that fresh lease would only be given after the MPSM had been created.  

MoEF officials could not be reached for comment.

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