Officials seek to end mining ban in dense forests

The new environment, forests and climate change minister, Prakash Javadekar, has been advised by the bureaucracy at Paryavaran Bhawan against continuing with the ban on mining in forests and moratorium on new factories in heavily polluted industrial areas. Two officials, present at the first meeting of the minister with senior officials, said these two — the no-go policy to restrict mining in dense forests and the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index- based moratorium in industrial zones — were marked out as two of the previous government’s actions that the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) government should undo to give impetus to growth.

Sources said Javadekar remained non-committal and, instead, informed the officials that he would hold detailed discussions over the next few weeks on key issues before taking a call.

The pollution-linked moratorium continues in several industrial zones, including Ankleshwar (Gujarat), Chandrapur (Maharashtra), Pali (Rajasthan), Vatva (Gujarat), Vellore (Tamil Nadu), Najafgarh Drain Basin (Delhi) and Jodhpur (Rajasthan), for lack of improvement, though it has been progressively removed in areas where the government said improvement in pollution levels had been recorded.

The no-go policy on mining remains in suspended animation after the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government refused to accept the expert panel’s report on the matter and continued to clear coal blocks on a case-to-case basis, including some in dense forests, which had been categorised as no-go zones earlier. The expert panel had drawn up a comprehensive criterion for identifying biodiversity-rich and dense forests to ban all mining activity, but it was put in cold storage eventually.

The minister heard out the officials on the two issues but did not accept or disagree with the views, sources said. The closed- door meeting lasted over three hours, with a detailed presentation made by the environment secretary, which included these two contentious issues and other key issues like climate change.

“It was abundantly clear that he has a good command on the subject of climate change. He exuded confidence about leading positively at the Paris meeting in 2015 (where the global climate deal is to be signed),” said one of the two officials.

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