By Our Business Bureau
NEW DELHI/BHUBANESWAR/JODA/KOIRA: The Union Forest and Environment Ministry is likely to extend its clearances for 40 expiring Mines by March 31, 2020 in Odisha.
“Prior to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2015, there was a provision for extension of lease after its expiry. But now that has changed. On March 31, 2020 the lease of over 40 mines will expire. The forest clearance is co-terminus with the lease,” said Siddhanta Das, DG of Forests and Special Secretary in the Environment Ministry in New Delhi.
“The new leases will be allotted through auction. We propose to extend the forest clearances for these mines to work within the same broken area and capacity. This can avoid any major disruption in production,” Das said.
“Forest clearances for over 40 mines on which leases are set to expire on March 31, 2020, are likely be extended for new lessees that will take over the mines.The environment ministry has drafted a policy of extending forest clearances for non-captive mines that have been already operating for the past 50 years.The policy is now awaiting approval from the Ministry of Law and Justice,” sources said quoting media reports.
According to senior officials in the Environment Ministry, the extension of green clearances is necessary to avert major disruptions in the mining industry. Environmental activists and researchers warned that a transfer of clearances would pose the risk of past violations of by mining companies.
The issue was discussed at a Forest Advisory Committee meeting on October 17, where it was recommended that the ministry seek legal advice from the law ministry before placing facts before the committee because it involves interpretation of laws.
The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries has appealed to the environment ministry for the extension in forest and environmental clearances. It has also sought an extension of the lease period until 2030 for the 48 mines facing expiry by March 31, 2020.
An analysis of the FIMI has shown that 265,000 people will be left jobless because of the expiry of the leases, a spokesperson for the federation said.“It will impact production. More than 30% of India’s iron ore production will be wiped out for some time.”
Ideally, the lease period should be extended for 20 years at a time until reserves last, the spokesperson said. “We are, however, not sure how the environment ministry can extend clearances when the lease itself expires,” he added.According to FIMI, the lease of 48 operational mines will expire in March next year.
“The legal clarity needed here is not just about the power to extend or transfer forest clearances. It is about the huge liabilities that have built up over decades. The Supreme Court’s MB Shah Commission had pointed out that many iron ore mines had violated forest clearance procedures.”
“This means that the impacts on ecology and livelihoods are a result of that illegality. In most cases the remediation is still pending even if fines may have been paid,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research think tank.The Shah Commission in 2014 found large-scale violation of environment and forest laws in Odisha because of illegal mining practices by lease holders.
“The Shah Commission found gross violations in the mining sector in Odisha. What about those? Transferring forest clearance without an assessment will be a violation of law. We need an assessment of forests and implementation of forest rights act in these large mines,” said an activists.
Meanwhile, sources said in Bhubaneswar, Odisha Government has requested Ministry of Mines to take up with the Central Government Agencies to facilitate timely grant of Statutory Clearances in favor of the new lessees for seamless transition after auction of Mineral Blocks for Mining Operation.Statutory Clearances were to be provided by Central Agencies like IBM, DGMS, PESO, CGWB, MoEF&CC and State Agency like OSPCB.
State Government has approached Ministry of Mines to facilitate such clearances and Department of Steel & Mines will coordinate the exercise. ACS Steel & Mines Raj Kumar Sharma is in continuous interaction with Union Ministry officials.
While the State Government has started auction process for 20 Mineral Blocks from 6 December afresh, in order to ensure completion of auction process before the expiry of leases, the seamless transition would be possible provided the Statutory Clearances are in place.
In the meeting it was decided that outstanding dues against the present lessee shall not be a ground to hold back any clearances to the Letter of Intent (LoI) holder.While the fresh auction process begins on 6 December, LOIs will be issued to successful bidders in between10-29 February, 2019.
State Government has requested Ministry of Mines to examine and explore the possibility of extending the current approved Mining Plan by Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) with same terms and conditions for another three years with Fresh Scheme of Mining for such extended 3 years.
Approval of Mining Plan is one of the major Statutory Clearances needed for Mining Operations and it takes lot of time. IBM Authorities say that Mining Plan will be approved in 30 days from its receipt.
Officials say that at least two Major Statutory Clearances for starting Mining Operations– Forest and Environment Clearance which take lot of time are likely to be extended as it is so that there will be seamless transition for the new lease holders of Mineral Blocks.
With Union Government desires a seamless transition in this regard, Representatives of the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has indicated their observations in the meeting.
Representative of MoEE&CC informed that a proposal has been initiated to extend the existing Forest Clearance (FC) for a period of two years so as to facilitate the new lessee to obtain fresh clearance during this period.
Similar proposal has been initiated to extend existing Environment Clearance (EC) for a period of two years so as to facilitate the new Lessee to obtain the fresh clearance during this period, said the Representative of MoEF&CC.Both the proposals have been sent to MoEF&CC for favorable consideration, which will go a long way in helping out the new Lessee, said a senior official of the State Government.
Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) issues Consent to Establish (CTE) and Consent To Operate (CTO).While CTE for same quantity can be transferred without any hassle, CTO will be processed after receipt of Environment Clearance and will be disposed off within 15 days of its receipt, officials say.