MAC: Mines and Communities

Jairam asks Maha CM to review 49 mining leases in Sindhudurg

Published by MAC on 2010-11-08
Source: Times of India (2010-10-18)

Jairam asks Maha CM to review 49 mining leases in Sindhudurg

By Viju B

Times of India

18 October 2010

Mumbai: Union minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh has asked Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan to review the 49 mining leases given for excavation of iron ore and bauxite in Sindhudurg region. The move follows a TOI expose on the state government's decision to approve the leases in the eco-sensitive district of Konkan Maharashtra.

Ramesh's letter to the chief minister, which attached a series of news reports that appeared in TOI on October 15 and 16, expressed serious doubts on the credibility and integrity of the environment-impact assessment reports, saying: ‘‘It appears to me that if these mining leases are not reviewed, we would be opening the gates to a very severe environmental disaster.''

Following indications that the state government might seek to wash its hands of the matter, Ramesh told TOI that the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) itself would, if need be, review the clearances given to the mining projects in the Western Ghats.

The TOI reports warned of the serious environmental problems that could visit this beautiful, lush green belt along the Western Ghats. They also spoke of the long-term ecological impact, including loss of forest cover and biodiversity, and irreparable damage to flora and fauna besides the loss of livelihood of villagers heavily dependent on the forests and their resources. The reports also described how easy it was to get fabricated environmental-impact assessment reports prepared to ease the way for the mines.

Chief minister Chavan sought to deflect blame, saying the mining leases were approved after necessary clearances from the Centre. ‘‘Very little could be done by the state government vis-a-vis the existing leases as they were cleared by the MoEF. Proposals were submitted to the Centre and the state government granted them letters of intent after the entrepreneurs obtained no-objection certificates from the ministry. So there was very little role for the state government,'' Chavan said.

But, for all new proposals, Chavan added, the state government would set up a committee headed by the district collector and comprising nominees from the state tourism department, the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board and the state environment department. ‘‘We have made it clear that no proposal should be submitted to the Centre before views of the general public are heard by the committee and, once the hearing is over, the collector will be asked to submit his comments based on the public hearing.''

A senior MoEF official, however, said all the clearances for the Sindhudurg mines had come from the Centre much before the present minister's tenure and that the ministry would review all the approved leases. ‘‘Besides, the ministry acted in good faith after the proposals came from the state government,'' the official added, wondering how Chavan could now blame the Centre. Ramesh's letter to Chavan says that the ministry's Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, chaired by Madhav Gadgil, has been asked to examine this issue and give its recommendations.

Environmentalists have welcomed Jairam's intervention. ‘‘This is a step in the right direction. We hope that the state government will now cancel the proposed mining leases and stop the mines that are operational in wildlife corridor region,'' said D Stalin, director of green NGO Vanashakti, which was the first to take up this issue.

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Times Impact, 18 October 2010 - Jairam to Chavan:

I attach a news item that had appeared in The Times of India on October 15, 2010. The news item is a matter of the greatest concern. I would request you to please review the 49 mining leases for excavating iron ore and bauxite in the Sindhudurg region. There are serious doubts on the credibility and integrity of the environmental impact assessment and it appears to me that if these mining leases are not reviewed, we would be opening the gates to a very severe environmental disaster.

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