February 17, 2011
NEW DELHI: The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has lifted its moratorium on new investment in eight industrial clusters including Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.
These are among the 43 clusters identified as critically polluted in a 2009 study.
Interestingly, none of the eight are coalfields despite Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal’s reported claim that he had convinced Jairam Ramesh, his counterpart in the Environment Ministry, to lift the moratorium on 16 coalfields by easing the pollution norms.
Instead, the Environment Ministry’s order on Wednesday indicates that the 16 coalfields are among the cases which will be considered over the next four weeks for a possible lifting of the moratorium.
Earlier this week, after a meeting between the two Ministers, Mr. Jaiswal reportedly claimed that pressure on Mr. Ramesh led to an agreement to lift the moratorium before the Group of Ministers on Coal holds its first meeting on Friday. The two Ministries have also been involved in a tussle over the classification and permission to mine in coalfields situated in heavily forested areas.
In December 2009, the Central Pollution Control Board released its Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) based on its assessment of 88 important industrial clusters. The 43 clusters which had a CEPI score of 70 or more were identified as critically polluted and a ban was imposed on environmental clearances for new projects or expansions in these areas until suitable remediation and mitigation plans were prepared and implementation begun.
The moratorium was lifted in five areas in October 2010. On Wednesday, it was lifted in eight more clusters at Cuddalore, Navi Mumbai, Dombivali, Aurangabad, Ludhiana, Varanasi, Agra and Bhavnagar.
The process of verification of action plan implementation is underway in 25 more areas, including the coalfields.
Revised action plans for five remaining areas are still awaited by CPCB, according to the Environment Ministry’s note.