Bringing cheer to industrialists but gloom to environmentalists, a group of union ministers has said that forest clearance should be granted for the development of two coal blocks by three major industrial houses for their own 'captive' use.
The group of 12 ministers headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recommended to the cabinet on Wednesday that the policy of 'go, no-go' areas for coal mining developed by former environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh to protect heavily forested and ecologically sensitive areas be scrapped. The ecologically conscious Ramesh has since been shunted to the relatively innocuous rural development ministry.
Wednesday's meeting of the panel of ministers was attended by power minister Sushilkumar Shinde, coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, law minister Salman Khurshid, steel minister Beni Prasad Verma, mines minister Dinsha Patel and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Ramesh was not on the panel.
The recommendations mean that Anil Ambani-led Reliance Power, the Aditya Birla Group and Essar Power could go ahead with their projects, stalled for two years over environmental clearances.
Reliance Power's Chhatrasal block, which is attached to the 4,000 MW Sasan 'ultra mega power project', and the Mahan coal block for joint use by the Birlas' Hindalco and Essar should be given forest clearance, subject to some conditions.
The recommendations are in line with the conclusions of a committee appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to look into eight stalled power sector projects, including the one linked to Mahan and Chhatrasal, on a priority basis as thousands of crores of rupees have already been made in these projects.