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Mining in India has mostly taken place in common grazing land: Study cites environment ministry data

Counterview Desk
A recent study, “Midcourse Manoeuvres: Community strategies and remedies for natural resource conflicts in India”, says that a sectoral and regional distribution of environment clearances for projects granted environmental clearance up to October 2017 indicates that states such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have “a large number of environment clearances for industrial projects”.
Analyzing 4,553 projects, listed on the environment ministry’s website as of October 2017, as they appeared in January 2018, the study analyses four sectors, mining, thermal power, river valley projects, and infrastructure and CRZ.
Authors Kanchi Kohli, Meenakshi Kapoor, Manju Menon and Vidya Viswanathan of the CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Program, New Delhi, however, regret, the only environmental clearance letters could be used for analysis because the ministry “maintains a record only of the number of approvals and not the land area approved.” 

Excerpts from the study:

The data analysed is for an 11-year period for the years 2005-16. It was in 2004 when several new sectors such as building and construction projects were brought under the purview of the EIA notification. With increased urbanisation, these sectors have had a significant bearing on land use change. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the real estate sector has been on a “roller coaster ride” since 2005 and is growing at the rate of 20% per annum.
From 2005-16, more than 3,12,524 ha of land was diverted for 116 river valley projects (total river valley projects approved during this period). Out of this, 51,130 ha was forest land. The state wise distribution of the land use change due to river valley projects is presented below. Manipur and Andhra Pradesh stand out because of Tipaimukh (31,950 ha) and Polavaram (46,060 ha) multipurpose dams.
The same data can be also be analysed to understand the year-wise land use change for both forest and non- forest land from 2005-16 for 116 (out of 163) river valley projects approved during that period. The maximum non-forest land was diverted between 2005 and 2006, amounting to a total of 2,04,315 ha. When it comes to forestland, the big peak is in 2008 because of the approval for the Tipaimukh multipurpose project (26,237 ha).

Mining (coal and non-coal mining)

From 2005-16, 7,31,787 ha of land was diverted for 1,881 mining projects. The total mining projects approved during this period were 2,523. Out of this 1,77,206 ha was forestland. Other lands include agricultural and grazing lands. States such as Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan are where the largest amount of land use change has taken place due to mining. In Rajasthan (4%) and Gujarat (2%) very little forest area has been approved towards land use change. 
This is because the approval letters indicate that most of the lands taken up for mining are common grazing lands. In Uttarakhand, 82% of the mining is in forest land. However, this is mostly riverbed sand and boulder mining, which has to go through the approval process due to change in regulations in 2015.
The maximum land was approved towards mining in the years 2007-09. In contrast, there has been a slowdown in approvals since 2011 with a spike again in 2014. The data also indicates that there is a larger percentage of non-forest land that has been approved for the mining projects. In 2007, the distribution was 22% forestland and 78% non-forest land; in 2008, it was 33% forestland and 67% non-forest land; in 2009, the distribution was 26% forest land and 74% non-forest land.
There are a few national and international level developments that could help contextualise this. The Ministry of Mines set up the MB Shah Commission in 2010 to probe into illegal mining in several states including Odisha, Goa and Karnataka. While the Commission’s enquiry was underway, there was a slowdown in approvals to several iron ore mining projects. The Commission is said to have submitted its final report in mid-October, just before its term ended on October 16, 2013, as the term was not extended to be able to cover all states where illegal mining was reportedly underway.
State-wise distribution of environment clearances up to October 2017
Another reason for this could be the overall slowdown in the iron ore demand. In 2012, there was a global drop in demand for iron ore, thereby reducing the number of investors who would have pursued new projects and environmental approvals. Indian firms engaged in iron ore mining faced a big setback during this period and are yet to fully recover.
The Coalgate case and judgment also had a bearing on approvals to coal mining projects. On September 24, 2014, the much-awaited decision of the Supreme Court on the allocation of coal blocks was delivered. This direction followed an earlier judgment of August 25, 2014, rendering all coal mine blocks allocated through the government steering committee process since 1993, as illegal and arbitrary. 
The process of granting approvals saw a substantial slow down till the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 came into place, and the process of auctioning coal blocks was put into place. It is only late 2016 onwards that coal mining blocks that were re-auctioned began to seek fresh or transfer of environmental approvals.
2013 and 2014 saw a spike in approvals when minor mineral projects (even under 5 hectares) were made to go through the approval process following the orders of the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal. 166 minor mineral projects were approved in Punjab. However, related documents for these approvals have not been uploaded on the ministry’s website.

Infrastructure and CRZ projects

The Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for infrastructure and CRZ projects primarily looks at projects such as highways, pipelines, ports and SEZs. It also appraises real estate and construction projects. The projects under CRZ are all those projects which require approval under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification. These could be power plants, tourism projects and sand mining projects in addition to the categories mentioned earlier.
From 2005-16, more than 1,21,797 ha of land was diverted for 694 infrastructure and CRZ projects with most of the land use change in non-forest areas. The total projects approved during this period were 1,325. However, information was not available for several projects, especially linear projects like pipelines and highways where the total land area or its break up is not disclosed on the ministry’s website.
Out of this 6,402 ha was forestland. In Mizoram, all the land use change was in the forest area because of the construction of one road project, which involved the use of 197 ha of forestland. The use of forestland for infrastructure projects is visible in states and union territories such as Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh. 
The use of forestland in Uttarakhand is essentially for three ropeway projects while in Uttar Pradesh it is for nine highway projects (both new constructions as well as upgradation). In J&K it is for two ropeway projects and one highway project.
Other lands for this sector include agricultural and grazing lands. On the coast, several fishing areas are revenue commons or held by government departments such as fisheries or ports. This could be one of the reasons that for the states, which have a coastline, the forestland diversions are minimal.
Sector-wise environment clearances across states with over 500 projects approvals (1968-2017)
The same data can also be analysed to understand the year-wise land use change for both forest and non-forest land from 2005-16 for 116 (out of 163) infrastructure and CRZ projects approved during that period. The maximum non-forest land was diverted during 2007 and 2014. This amounted to a total of 32,103 ha only for these two years. It is difficult to ascertain the exact reasons for the same.
However, the 2007 peak is because of the inclusion of building and construction projects in the new EIA notification, 2006, which were to be appraised by newly established state level institutions. In the interim, the MoEFCC approved these projects. When it comes to forestland, the big peak is in 2012, 2013 and 2016. The reasons for the same are unclear. 

Thermal Power

From 2005-16, more than 78,428 ha of land was diverted for 271 thermal power projects. This was both new as well as expansion projects. The total projects approved during this period were 552. However, information was not available for several projects, primarily because the website of the ministry either did not have documents uploaded or the environment clearance letters did not mention the land area required for the project.
The maximum amount of non-forest land was approved for thermal projects in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Some of these were extremely high profile projects where conflicts were reported, like the 4x300 MW Jaigad TPP in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra and 2x660 MW IL&FS TPP at Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu.
2,000 ha was forest land for the 25 of the total approved projects for which approval letters specified the breakup of land. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh saw maximum amount of forestland diverted during this period accounting to 1506 ha. Some of these projects include 4000 MW Tilaiya Ultra Mega Power Project in Jharkhand (621.59 ha) and 2x660 MW Coal Based Thermal Power Plant at village Salka, in Premnagar, Chhattisgarh (135.7 ha).
The maximum amount of land appears to have been approved during the years 2007-10. One reason for this is the increased investment of the private sector in thermal power generation. A record 52 projects were allocated to the private sector during 2007-09, which included Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs) of groups such as Tata Power and Reliance Power. The other prominent actors were the Adani, Jaypee and Lanco. Following their allocation, several of these projects were granted environment clearance by the environment ministry.
Unlike other sectors, several projects granted environment clearance from 2005-16 were approved indicating that they would be built on approximately 8984 ha of land that was already in possession of the respective project proponents. This was the case with 109 expansion/replacement or augmentation projects. This includes Rihand Super Thermal Power Project Stage-III (2x500 MW) in Uttar Pradesh, which sought to utilise 295.42 ha that was already with the project proponent. The amount of land to be utilised for these projects ranged from 0.068 ha to 450 ha.
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