No deadline to implement long pending Inviolate Forest Policy, says govt

Policy recommends keeping 40% of India's forests safe from all kind of mining

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi March 30, 2017 Last Updated at 19:15 IST

The has no deadline by which it will implement the long-pending The policy, awaiting a final approval for more than four years now, requires the to sequester good and biodiverse areas from all kind of mining, including coal. 


In its last assessment, the government’s Forest Survey of India had recommended under the policy that over 40 per cent of the country’s existing forest cover should be kept safe from mining of all sorts. This recommendation came in a report, submitted in August 2016. This would require denying mining rights in 285,853 square kilometres of lands out of 701,672 square kilometres. 


The fact that has no specific deadline to impose this policy was revealed through a response to an application in February 2017. While the policy has been kept in limbo the has continued to give clearance to some of the coal blocks that fall into a deeply pruned list of inviolate areas on a piece meal basis. 


The policy was initiated during the era by the then minister Jairam Ramesh in 2011. It was then called No-go policy. At that time it was to look protecting good forest areas only from But it faced opposition from within the cabinet itself leading Ramesh to relatively prune down the list of coal blocks to be denied permissions. Even this diluted-down version faced opposition from within the as Jayanthi Natarajan took charge in place of Ramesh. She was asked to let clearances be given on a piecemeal basis and get the draft policy revised using better scientific methods. A committee of experts set up within the ministry did so and in 2013 in its report detailed the parameters by which rich forest areas could be identified to be kept safe not only from coal but all kind of mining activities. This came to be known as the inviolate forest area policy


But, instead of implementing the policy, towards its last days, the began a process of reviewing and diluting its application after Natarajan was removed as minister. When the took over, this process of dilution continued. The ministry consulted the coal ministry and its institutions on repeated times to see how different tweaking to the criteria for selecting inviolate patches would impact coal blocks and coal-bearing areas. Documents accessed through show that the coal ministry repeatedly asked for dilution of the inviolate forest area parameters and in several cases the ministry relented. 


As early as mid-2015 the Forest Survey of India (FSI), a agency that maps country’s forest resources, told the ministry that out of the total 835 coal blocks it assessed 49 were found to be totally in the inviolate zone. Originally 206 blocks had been identified as inviolate.  The pointed out in its 2015 correspondence that another 417 blocks would also face partial restrictions if the inviolate policy was imposed using all the recommended parameters.  informed the that 4 operational coal blocks fell totally within inviolate forest areas and another 117 operational coal blocks would be impacted if the also tried to protect first order rivers that are critical for the good from This hydrological parameter had also been recommended by the experts as one of the several parameters for delineating rich forest areas but the coal ministry has objected to using this criteria and suggested severe dilution to it as it could potentially impact a large number of  


The then also undertook an assessment of how much total forest area needed to be protected from all kinds of mining and not just coal. This report was submitted to the in August 2016. The recommended protecting a bit more than 40% of India’s from all kind of mining. 


The ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee, which recommends whether should be given over for mining and other activities has begun using this data to make its recommendations at least in some cases, public records of the ministry show. But a universal blanket application of the policy to sequester rich as a default has not been taken because the has not approved the policy.