New Delhi: In what can be seen as a relaxation in its ban on mining in `no-go` areas, the Environment Ministry on Wednesday cleared six coal blocks, including five in such areas, for three major power plants in Orissa.
"All the six coal-blocks are part of the IB Valley coalfield and only one (Meenakshi-A) is presently in the `go` area, the other five being in `no go` areas," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a statement clearing the coal-blocks linked to UMPP, NTPC and OPGC power plants.
Three coal-blocks (Meenakshi-A, Meenakshi-B and Meenakshi Dipside) have been allocated to the 3960MW/4000MW Ultra Mega Power Plant (UMPP), he said.
Last year, Environment Ministry had defined `no go` areas for mining as those that have over 30 per cent gross forest cover or over 10 per cent weighted forest cover.
As per the guidelines, the mining is allowed only in the `go` areas.
Ramesh said, "Coal-blocks (Manoharpur and Manoharpur Dipside) have been allocated to the 1320 MW power plant of Orissa Power Generation Corporation (OPGC). One coal-block (Dulanga) has been allocated to NTPC`s 1600 MW power plant."
Since the UMPP had already advanced considerably and in response to persistent requests from it, discussions were held first with the Power Ministry and to see how the use of good quality forest land could be minimised in the UMPP-linked coal-blocks, the Minister said.
"Based on these discussions, I wrote to the Union Power Minister on February 14, 2011 saying that the Ministry of Power could consider the UMPP-linked coal blocks as having been approved but that this would mean the Ministry of Power giving up plans for the NTPC and OPGC power plants," he said.
"Subsequently, NTPC and OPGC also came forward and offered substantial changes in their mining plans," Ramesh said.
Ramesh said OPGC further argued that it was the only power plant of the three from which the state would get 100 per cent power.
"OPGC also made a strong case for its coal-blocks on the grounds that this would be the first power plant to be set up by the OPGC, in which the state government now has 51 per cent stake, for almost two decades," he said.
The Minister said to get a broader picture of the biodiversity impacts, it was decided to relook at the three projects together. He said another round of discussions were held and the final meeting was on June 27.
Referring to a satellite imagery on the forest area to be diverted as coal-blocks, Ramesh said 40 per cent of the forest area alloted to UMPP could be saved. He said the number of trees to be felled in the case of NTPC has fallen from around 67, 500 to 37,500 (a 44 per cent reduction) and in case of OPGC approximately 75,000 trees were saved.
He said the effort to save the number of trees could be materialised on account of the MoE&F`s intervention and the cooperation received from Power Ministry, NTPC and OPGC.
Ramesh, however, said, "The numbers in regard to the UMPP have yet to be worked out but here too, the MoE&F will insist on a significant reduction."
He said all the power units being put up with the coal mined in these six blocks will use supercritical technology. "This will result in a saving of around 5 to 8 per cent in terms of carbon dioxide emissions from each of the generating units as compared to a comparable sub-critical 500 MW unit," Ramesh said