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Allow limestone mining in Gujarat, relax environmental norms in coastal zone: High level Govt of India report

By Rajiv Shah
A high-level committee, appointed by the Government of India soon after Narendra Modi took over reins of power in 2014, has recommended that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) should “relax” mining coastal environmental norms for “developmental purposes.”
The drastic recommendation of the committee has been made on the basis of the Gujarat government’s “request seeking relaxation in mining of limestone in the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) area”, the committee, headed by Dr Shailesh Nayak, secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, says in its report. The report was submitted in January 2015.
The committee, in its report titled “Report of the Committee to Review the Issues relating to the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011”, obtained through a right to information (RTI) plea filed way back on February 22, 2015 by well-known environmental expert Kanchi Kohli, says, Gujarat’s “limestone reserves” found in the coastal region “are valuable and should be utilized for developmental purposes.”
The report, which was not allowed to go public under the pretext that it cannot be given “unless approved”, says, “The limestone reserves of Gulf of Kutch and Saurashtra need to be examined and studied in detail by reputed scientific national institutes such as Central Mining Research Institute, Dhanbad, National Cement and Building Material Institute, Faridabad.”
It insists, “Based on the recommendations of these Institutes, selective mining with appropriate safeguards related to ground water, coastal erosion and others could be carried out”, adding, “The mining of such minerals could be indicated in the coastal zone management plan (CZMP) of the state/union territory which shall be prepared based on the above studies.”
The committee’s report says, the Gujarat government had requested that “certain stretches of the coastline have large reserve of high quality of limestone”, especially in the “Gulf of Kutch and Saurashtra.”
The state government told the committee that the two regions of the state “have vast limestone reserves amounting to 10,000 million metric tonnes”, adding, “This limestone has high calcium content (more than 92%) and is extremely valuable. Several industries especially cement industries in these areas use the limestone.”
“Many of the industries have been set up prior to 1991 based on the limestone reserve. These industries have been affected due to the provision of the CRZ Notification”, the state government had further said in its representation.
The committee said, “The state government has sought relaxation of mining of limestone and has requested to make it a permissible activity outside eco-sensitive area with subject to the condition of proper mitigation measures, preservation of erosion, saline water incursion, pollution of coastal waters and so on.”
Insisting that not just limestone mining but also “all other projects of national importance declared by the Central Government” should be “undertaken in CRZ on a case-to-case basis”, the committee, however, refers to how “the sea bed and the bed of the tidally influenced water bodies are the breeding, spawning and rearing grounds of several coastal/marine species on which the local communities depend upon.”
The recommendation to allow limestone mining along Gujarat coasts – forming 20 per cent of India –has come even as the report says that “several activities such as indiscriminate mining and dredging” have “destroyed the benthic flora and fauna”, insisting how “such activities have affected the coastal processes leading to accretion, deposition and change in hydrodynamics and morphodynamics.”

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