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New committee to map no-go areas for miners

Union ministry for environment and forests has constituted a panel that will set new criteria to demarcate no-go areas for mining.

The committee has been set up after the group of ministers on coal, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, asked the ministry to reformulate the parameters for no-go areas, though this time it is rechristened as inviolate and pristine forests.

The committee, chaired by MoEF secretary, consists of representation from the Forest Survey of India and the Wildlife Institute of India along with other senior forest officers. The committee has been tasked with setting parameters to make good forests out of bounds for extraction for commercial use.

The previous exercise to map such areas was undertaken at the behest of Coal India Limited and the coal ministry. However, the drive got mired in controversy after the coal ministry, CIL and industry lobbies balked at the concept.

The committee is expected to set norms that would measure the biodiversity values of forests, besides considering the typical measure of forest crown cover. With Supreme Court orders and Wildlife Protection Act putting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other 'protected areas' off-limits for miners, the committee is expected to set the norms to assess forest patches beyond these zones.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is likely take the GoM's approval on the new norms before demarcation of forest patches are carried out by ministry and its affiliate agencies.

But the fate of Mahan and Chhattrasal coal blocks, which have been mentioned in the CAG report, could get decided before the demarcation exercise since the GoM has asked the MoEF to review its decision to bar mining in these areas since they enjoy good forest cover. Mahan is jointly allotted to Hindalco and Essar and Chhattrasal is given to Reliance Power's Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project.

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