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The new Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) on coal mining & thermal power, which was constituted recently, is on a clearance spree of projects for dirty energy.
New EACs under the Union Ministry for Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) were constituted in December 2016 under the chairmanship of Dr Navin Chandra, former director of CSIR-Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute (AMPRI). As soon as they were constituted, EAC (coal) met on December 27, and EAC (thermal) on December 28. Without sharing agenda with members 15 days before the meeting, the environment ministry seems to be rushing to clear projects.
For example, EAC for thermal power projects in its first meeting okayed 15 of 18 proposals it considered. Only two projects got deferred, one of which was due to the absence of project proponent. The new EAC for coal mining and coal washery projects considered 10 proposals, of which seven were cleared and only three got deferred.
Of the seven cleared proposals, two are from Maharashtra for expansion of coal mining. These include expansion of Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) Gokul open cast mine project from 1.0 MTPA to 1.875 MTPA on an area of 756.92 hectares in Piraya village in Umrer near Nagpur. Another WCL project is expansion of New Majri underground to open cast mine from 0.8 MTPA to 1.2 MTPA on an area of 479.16 hectares in Chandrapur district, which is already critically polluted.
Delhi-based EIA Resource & Response Centre (ERC), which keeps track of EIA processes, did a rapid analysis of last three meetings by earlier EAC (coal mining & thermal power) and found that 25 projects were appraised, of which 17 projects were deferred or rejected due to various reasons like poor quality of public hearing conducted, absence of public hearing, absence of adequate and authentic information on the ground of ecological consideration like presence of elephant corridor within 10km radius and in some cases due to involvement of forest land conversions. One project was cancelled due to an NGT order against it.
It is interesting to note that new EAC has discarded all arguments against dirty energy. For example, minutes for one cleared proposals highlighted the benefits stating, “Development of Gokul mines in Umrer has resulted in improvement in physical and social infrastructure, increase in employment potential, contribution to the exchequer, meeting energy requirement and post-mining enhancement of green cover.”
However, Pushp Jain, director of ERC, in his submission to the EAC (coal) questioned the purpose of more coal. As per the power ministry, India already faces a glut like situation due to ‘irrational investment decisions’ made by the power companies.
The findings of power ministry assessment are reiterated in the Draft National Electricity Plan 2016 as released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). As per the study, if one considered capacity addition from different sources viz. Gas: 4,340MW; Hydro: 15,330MW; Nuclear: 2800MW; Renewable: 15,326MW as committed during 2017-2022, no coal based addition was required during 2017-2022.
“EAC should act as appraisal committee with precautionary principle and not add to coal glut. A holistic, environment and people-sensitive approach would go a long way,” ERC suggested.
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