NEW DELHI: Despite India’s pledge to meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewables by 2030, the Union government has given more clearances for coal mining projects in 2021, shows an analysis. The analysis by the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), an environmental protection organisation, shows 35 per cent rise in green clearances for coal projects from 2020 to 2021. This comes even as the country has been facing coal shortage, forcing several power plants to operate below their capacity.
The 35 per cent increase in clearances in 2021 was mainly due to capacity expansion projects and this could be mainly because of the measures taken by the Centre to promote coal production by easing processes and diluting the restrictions for mining projects under the paradigm of EIA Notification, 2006.
The analysis claims that provisions of public hearings have been significantly relaxed and more coal mining expansion projects have been exempted from the requirement of the public hearing. Public hearings are mandated under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 in order to give the affected community an opportunity to express their concerns and opinion. However, during 2014 -2015 the provision has been diluted systematically.
On September 15, 2017, the Union environment ministry had issued an office memorandum for environmental clearance (EC), which exempted coal projects seeking capacity expansion up to 40 per cent from public hearing. Eighteen such projects (six in 2019, five in 2020, and seven in 2021) of a total of 39.834 MTPA (million tonnes per annum) capacity have been granted prior EC during 2019-21.
“This is of great concern as during 2021, almost 50 per cent of the expansion proposals coming for EC under the specific provision of EIA Notification, 2006, have been granted EC without any public participation,” the LIFE said.
The forest diversion for these projects showed a decrease in 2020 with respect to 2019 but it increased in 2021. Compared to forests diverted in 2020, the increase in diversion was 826.96 ha in 2021, which was almost equal to the figure in 2019.