The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has recommended that the validity of forest clearance be extended automatically for government-owned mines whose lease period got a 20-year extension (some of these are from the last year).
FAC made this recommendation in view of the coronavirus disease outbreak and economic impacts of the lockdown imposed to stop contain the infection.
According to the minutes of FAC’s meeting held on March 30 through video-conferencing, these mines will not require a fresh forest clearance. Hence, the impact of forest diversion on the area will not be assessed. Every time its lease expires, a mine has to apply for fresh forest clearance.
The 50-year lease of five National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) mines in Chhattisgarh expired in 2015 (for four mines) and 2017 (for one mine). Last year, the Chhattisgarh government extended the lease period by another 20 years till 2035 and 2037.
Odisha has also extended the lease period for some of its mines. The request for extension of forest clearance was made for these projects by the steel ministry.
FAC observed that based on the interpretation of various court orders and legal opinions from time to time, such extension of forest clearance can be granted.
Separately, the environment ministry has already issued directions for extending the validity of all prior environmental clearances expiring between March 15 and April 30 till June 30.
The ministry of home affairs has categorized “mining operations” as essential services, which will not be interrupted during the three-week lockdown period that began on March 25.