The Union environment ministry has granted permission to transfer of green nod for mining from old to new lessees. The new lessee does not need to apply for fresh forest clearance.
The latest exemption was added to help the process of handover of mines that are presently being auctioned in various states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, people familiar with the matter said.
The Ministry in a letter to all the Union Territories wrote on July 7 that the transfer under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, could be done if the new leaseholders meet certain conditions. The conditions are inclusive of all the terms and conditions mentioned in the forest clearance requirements when accorded the permission in addition to any new rules and guidelines framed afterwards.
However, non-compliance with any norm under the granted forest clearance would be made as a liability to the new lessee. If a case like this arises then the new lessee also would have to ensure first that the norm is followed on their part and then the takeover of the forest land happens.
The letter read “It is clarified that in case of violation of any of the conditions which was done during the period of the previous allocated and which constitutes an offence under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the penal clauses will be invoked against the previous allocated only and not against the new allocated.”
On June 23, 2021, the Financial Express also reported that the Ministry of mines had earlier proposed a lot of amendments to the mineral concession rules (MCRs) under which “ownership transfer for all kinds of mining leases obtained either via auction or non-auction routes would be allowed.”
This move was made seeking more mergers and acquisitions in the sector and resulted in the coming of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, (MMDR) 2021.
Usually, the process of seeking permissions from various sectors used to take a span of three to four years including the green nod. However, the new rules would make it much faster as no new permission would be needed to be taken, said the FE.
Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, said, “It is significant that the ministry has recognised that non-compliance of conditions is a serious legacy issue in the transfer of forest clearances, which is to be either addressed prior to the handover of approval, or liability fixed on to the new allottee.
But this does not actually guarantee that years of illegality-induced conflicts will be resolved. Approval conditions are tied to questions of rehabilitation, jobs, contamination of farms and homesteads or land grab cannot be fixed only by bureaucratic paperwork. The penal clauses may lead to revenue collection for forest departments, but are no assurance against future illegalities.”
The environmental ministry said that this transfer of forest clearance was in response to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2021 which clearly states under section 8b that the new lessee could continue mining operations under the permission taken by the previous lessee until the tenure gets over.
However, Sudiep Shrivastava, a Chhattisgarh-based environmental lawyer has raised his concern over this issue and said it is not the same time anymore when the mines were granted permission. Also at that time very few mines were present while today its in abundance and cramped up in one single place, so permissions have to be scrutinized again and cannot be exactly transferred.
“We have to understand that some of these mines that have been auctioned have been mined for lease periods of 20 to 30 years. Now after the transfer of forest clearance without any assessment, they will be mined for another 20 to 30 years.
This can be extremely detrimental to local ecology because the ground situation has changed massively during all these years. Also, when the mines had been made operational in the 90s or 80s, there were only one or two mines in a certain region.
Now, several mines have come up in that zone. How will the cumulative impact of so many mines on the forest cover of the region be assessed?” he added.