Green tribunal cancels forest clearance to captive coal blocks in Chhattisgarh

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 17:35

The National Green Tribunal has cancelled the clearance given by the then Union Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh, to the Parsa East and Kante-Basan captive coal blocks in the Hasdeo-Arand forests of Chhattisgarh, overruling the statutory Forest Advisory Committee.

The forest clearance was given by Mr. Ramesh in June 2011, overriding the advice of the Ministry’s expert panel on the two blocks for mining by a joint venture between Adani and Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited. The coal mine has reserves of in excess of 450 million tonnes and was slated to produce 15 million tonnes of coal every year. The blocks requiring 1,989 hectares of forestland fell in an area that the government had initially barred as it was considered a patch of valuable forest and demarcated as a ‘no-go’ area.

The Forest Advisory Committee and the Ministry has been asked to revisit the proposal from scratch based on all factors, including questions that the tribunal put down in its order.

‘Facts misrepresented’

The appellant, Sudiep Shrivastava, was represented by senior lawyer Raj Panjwani along with lawyers Rahul Choudhary and Ritwick Dutta, who also pleaded that material facts had been misrepresented and not considered while giving the clearance.

The order is bound to have a more far-reaching impact, with the tribunal holding that “mere expression of fanciful reasons relating to environmental concerns without any basis, scientific study or past experience would not render the advice of FAC — a body of experts — inconsequential.

It further said: “The Minister rejecting the recommendation of such an expert body must bear in mind that he is countering an expert opinion/viewpoint and in doing so, he must meet it with such opinion or viewpoint which it would outweigh both by content and quality as aforesaid.”

Under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the FAC is required to appraise projects that require forestlands and advise the Environment Ministry to grant approval or reject the proposals.

But in this case, the NGT noted, the Minister had taken all of one day and relied upon his “understanding and belief” without any “basis either in any authoritative study or experience in the relevant fields.” The court added: “From the records it’s not very well understood what made him (the Minister’s) change his mind overnight after having appreciated the ecological value of the Hasdeo-Arand forests when considering another coal block in the same forest belt. The tribunal also hauled up the FAC for not paying attention to all the parameters. The FAC had “failed to give due regard to material issue/questions while tendering its advice to the Ministry,” the tribunal noted.

The Minister, while clearing the coal blocks, had given six reasons for doing so, including that the coal blocks are linked to super-critical thermal power plant, which is imperative to sustain the momentum generated in the XI Plan for increasing power production. These ‘anthropocentric’ considerations, the NGT held, were not valid to evaluate the project.

  • Govt. had initially barred mining in the area as it was considered a patch of valuable forest

  • Tribunal also hauls up Forest Advisory Committee, which appraises projects


Jairam Ramesh

for overruling expert panel in 2011