Easier to mine

the Union ministry of environment and forest (mef) is at it again. On January 3, 2001, it came out with a draft notification, which will not require environmental clearance and public hearing for certain projects. "Small-scale industrial units, mining projects with lease up to 25 hectares (0.25 square kilometres), widening and strengthening of highways, and modernisation of existing irrigation projects cause minimal impacts, both on environment and people living in the vicinity and such projects can be assessed even without a public hearing,' says the notification.

"This will be disastrous for the environment,' says Ravi R Pragada of Mines, Minerals and People, a Hyderabad-based non-governmental organisation (ngo). "Not giving the public a chance to raise objections is anti-democratic,' agrees Manoj Pradhan, of the Council for Professional Social Workers, a Bhubaneshwar-based ngo . "This is a clear conspiracy to avoid people's resistance of any kind,' he adds.

The notification goes on to propose that "public hearing is not required with to respect any such kind of activity including mining projects with lease area up to 0.25 square kilometre.' "If the government cannot improve the laws, at least it should not dilute them with notifications like these,' observes Pragada. "The impact of this decision will be very severe in the areas where communities and forests are involved,' he adds.

This decision may lead to certain corrupt practices too. A large mining company can hire 8-10 small companies and apply for a lease of 25 hectares separately under several names. As each company would have applied for less than 25 hectares area, it would not need a public hearing to get a clearance. "As such companies will easily get an environmental clearance, one big company will be able to get lease for huge area of land under the disguise of many small companies,' fears Pragada. "This is a plan on the part of mining companies to acquire land however small in area without any clearance,' alleges Pradhan.

A preliminary list compiled by the Kalpavriksh, a Pune-based non-governmental organisation, shows that there are at least 24 national parks and sanctuaries are under threat from mining.

Another major problem with this draft notification is the one related to the small-scale industries (ssis). ssi s account for as much as 65 per cent of industrial pollution load in the country. With only a fraction of around three million ssi s adhering to environmental norms, ssis continue to pose a serious environmental problem. If this notification gets approved, it will become very easy for the small-scale industries to get a clearance, without going through a public hearing.

If this notification gets approved it will spell doom for protected areas like the Sariska wildlife sanctuary. Even today stone quarrying goes on unabated inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve, despite a ban imposed by the Supreme Court.

"This will undermine our constitution and the democratic and socialist nature of it,' says Pragada. "Why is the government scared about public hearings?,' he asks.