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Jharkhand yet to clear plan to mark out land for iron ore mining

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-05-2014 Neha Sethi

New Delhi: The Jharkhand government hasn’t yet cleared a plan to mark out land in the Saranda forest that can be mined for iron ore, although a clutch of steel makers have been waiting for environmental clearances since 2009.

The forest advisory committee of the Union environment ministry still doesn’t have a wildlife management plan of the area that it had asked the state government to prepare in 2009.

“We do not know the current status but know that the report has not been submitted,” a government official said in New Delhi. He declined to be named.

Jharkhand had in August 2011 constituted an expert committee to come up with an integrated plan for the Saranda forest, one of India’s largest. The panel submitted a draft plan in early 2012 and a final plan in April last year. The state government is yet to approve of it.

The state government declined to comment.

The bureaucratic logjam has delayed investments in the mineral-rich state that has been afflicted with Maoist violence, particularly in the forests. The companies that want mining clearances include Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, JSW Steel Ltd, Tata Steel Ltd, ArcelorMittal and Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL).

SAIL and ArcelorMittal did not respond to emails.

A Jindal Steel and Power spokesman said the firm is in the process of complying with the conditions of stage one forest clearance granted by the environment ministry.

The initial draft of the expert panel recommended that about 61,000 hectares (ha) of forest in Saranda be declared as inviolate, where no mining would be allowed, to ensure conservation of wildlife. The suggestion was approved by the Wildlife Institute of India, but the reserved area was reduced to 53,800 ha in the final draft.

The April 2013 report said a major part of the forests in West Singhbhum district is rich in forest cover and biodiversity, and forms part of a larger landscape. “This is especially true in the forests of Saranda Forest Division,” it added.

Saranda is the world’s finest, largest sal forest, and forms the core of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve, said Prerna Singh Bindra, a former member of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

Along with the forests of Keonjhar and Sundergarh in Odisha, the area forms a massive elephant and tiger habitat covering the northern half of Odisha and southern half of Jharkhand.

“Saranda has been a university for generations of foresters for over a century,” Bindra said. “It should have been, and was in fact proposed to be, notified as a protected area, given its high ecological value.”

There are many mining projects across the country that are stuck owing to clearances, said Debashish Mishra, a senior director at consulting firm Deloitte India.

“The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has spoken about speedy environment and forest clearances, so the industry must be hopeful of resolving these issues to begin mining soon,” Mishra said. “Particularly in the area of coal, our imports have risen sharply owing to a dip in mining activity.”

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