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New power related projects: No waivers as MOEF clearances mandatory!

Fortunately, in the case of SAIL, the Cabinet Committee for Investments, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh, has stipulated that “within a month” MOEF is to issue clearance after obtaining the necessary information from the Jharkhand government, to facilitate commencement of work at the iron ore mines in Gua

The newly appointed Cabinet Committee on Investments, after reviewing 20 project proposals, has cleared 13, estimated to cost around Rs33,000 crore. These projects cover ten transmission, one hydro and two thermal projects. Full details have not yet been released in regard to time frame, owners’ location and other data, but the fact that the prime minister has stipulated that clearance be given within a month, at least in the case of Steel Authority of India (SAIL), makes the news interesting.

 

From this list, it appears one has already been recommended for clearance by the ministry of environment and forests (MOEF); two others are being followed by the ministry of coal with ministry of power and four others are with state governments and other ministries for clearances.

 

The press report also says that various clearances are pending with MOEF; ten projects in the transmission sector awaiting clearance for Stage I and Stage II Forest Clearance from the MOEF.

 

Fortunately, in the case of SAIL, the Cabinet Committee for Investments, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh, has stipulated that “within a month” MOEF is to issue clearance after obtaining the necessary information from the Jharkhand government, to facilitate commencement of work at the iron ore mines in Gua. The details of information required have not been publicised.

 

When the project is completed, SAIL will be able to increase its crude steel output by 5.44 million tonnes per annum. Media reports indicate that SAIL plans to invest Rs10,000 crore for mining activities and Rs19,000 crore for steel plants at Bhilai and Salem, apart from spending Rs43,000 crore in Bokaro, Durgapur, Rourkela and Burnpur plants. To meet these expansion and modernization projects, iron ore requirements will jump from current 24 million to 39 million tonnes, part of which will be, hopefully, obtained from the proposed Gua mines, when it becomes operational.

 

In a recent quotable quote, Jayanthi Natarajan, minister of environment and forests, is reported to have said that “there are no pending cases” in her office. There may be nothing ‘pending’ in her office as such, but, if somewhere down the line, work is held up and clearance is not forthcoming even at the state government or any other level, one must construe this as a stumbling block in our national progress.

 

It is also an altogether different issue that she was conspicuous by her absence in the recently held “Clean Energy Ministerial Meet” where her counterparts from 23 countries participated in the two-day conference. It is time MOEF announces details of pending cases for clearance, regardless of whether these are in Stage I or II and clearly give a time-frame within which these will be cleared; if not, they must categorically state why such clearances cannot be given and give ultimatums to project applicant for complying the required needs to facilitate such clearances. Passing the buck must stop by all concerned.

 

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)

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