Environment Ministry panel puts plan on hold over coal mine’s compliance
An expert body of the Environment Ministry has put on hold a proposal by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd. to expand the Sarguja mine, which is operated by an Adani-group company, for not complying with environmental clearances.
The ‘Parsa East and Kanta Basan’ open cast mine, which consists of a coal washery and being developed at a cost of ₹2,369 crore, involves 1,871 hectares of forest and an elephant corridor.
It is already mired in litigation. Resident tribal groups and activists have complained that the operations of the mine, temporarily cleared by the Supreme Court to operate at a capacity of 10 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), have over the years led to heightened dust pollution from the increased vehicular traffic, unchecked burning of coal and contamination of common water sources due to the discharge of mine-waste.
The Adani-group company operates the mine on behalf of the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (RRVNL) which has been allotted the block for 30 years, from where coal will be sourced to run thermal power plants in Rajasthan of around 4000 MW capacity.
RRVNL had approached the Expert Appraisal Committee for Thermal and Coal Mining Sector projects, a Union Environment Ministry body, for permission to expand the coal mine’s capacity from the existing 10 mtpa to 15 mtpa. According to estimates, 452 million tonnes can be extracted from the mine and the project will displace 114 families.
“The Committee was not convinced with the compliance status of Environment Clearance conditions,” say the minutes of the environment ministry’s expert panel. “The expansion may cause significant impact on the surrounding environment including socio-economic aspects.”
By Yatish Yadav | Published: 12th February 2017 07:15 AM |
NEW DELHI: Irked by the number of development schemes—which are high on the PM’s agenda—getting shelved owing to injunctions, the Narendra Modi government is ready with an amendment that bars the courts from issuing interim stays.
The latest irritant for the government was the National Green Tribunal stay, issued on January 2, on the Pune Metro proposal, just days after Modi performed the bhoomi pujan. While the Supreme Court vacated the NGT order on January 21, the government is set to amend the Specific Relief Act, drawing a laxman rekha for courts dealing with cases pertaining to public works contracts.
The government note, reviewed by The Sunday Standard, contains the new section, 14 A, seeking to restrict the power of courts to grant injunctions THAT impede or delay the timely completion of welfare projects. The draft will go to the Cabinet for approval, after which it will be introduced in Parliament when it opens on March 9.
The latest World Bank report ranks India among the bottom five of 190 countries on ease of doing business.
Section 14 A intends litigation not to halt the progress of infrastructure projects. Leaving no scope for interpretation, the amendment also seeks to specifically define “public works contract” by altering Section 2 of Specific Relief Act. “Public works contract means a contract entered into by or on behalf of the Central government, a state government, a local self government or an agency thereof, for the creation, upgradation, operation or maintenance of infrastructure, including roads, water supply, electricity, sewerage treatment, construction of public buildings, highways, bridges, ports, schools, airports, urban development and railways,” the note reviewed by this newspaper said.
Government sources said corporate rivalry and tussles between governments and investors cause projects to be challenged in courts. By the time a case is decided, there is a cost escalation of the scheme by ten times in the majority of cases. The bar on injunction could apply even at the stage of the tendering process.
The Narendra Modi government is adding a new section, 14A, to The Specific Relief Act in an amendment seeking to restrict the power of judiciary. If passed in Parliament, courts will no longer be able to grant injunctions, which may impede or delay the timely completion of welfare projects.
“Intent of the proposed law is to get the work done rather than compensation. The existing law was giving discretionary power to the court for remedies concerning breach of contract. The discretion is sought to be regimented through amendments which will ensure that even in cases where contract cannot be performed, the project remains alive at the cost of the defaulter running away from the agreement,” sources further added.
In line with the government’s development agenda, more amendments may be brought to apply to other provisions of the Specific Relief Act to deter parties choosing not to fulfill their contract obligations. The government will insert a new section, 20A, in the Act to allow a contract to be finished by a third party at the original contractor’s expense if the latter decides to abandon a project halfway. The note said, “Insertion of a new section 20A, to provide for a new relief of compensation for substituted performance of contract, so that the promisee (a party to the contract) who suffers from breach of contract performed through substituted performance by a third person at the cost and expense of the promisor (defaulter) committing such breach.”
Since courts lack technical expertise, the amendment will empower them to seek the help of experts to assist.
Under the existing law, the courts grant monetary compensation in exceptional circumstances. The government note argues that such remedies are not available to the parties as a matter of right, being entirely at the discretion of the court. “Where the legal system prefers compensatory relief, the promisor (defaulter/ contractor) has an incentive to break his contract if such course of action is more beneficial to him than performing it (completing the project).”
In another barrier-breaking development, the auctioned price of solar photovoltaic (SPV) power per kilowatt hour has dropped below ₹3 to ₹2.97 in Madhya Pradesh, providing a clear pointer to the future course of renewable energy. The levellised tariff — factoring in a small annual increase for a given period of time — for the 750 MW Rewa project over a 25-year period is ₹3.29, which is less than half the rate at which some State governments signed contracts in recent years. The progress of this clean source of energy must be deepened with policy incentives, for several reasons. Arguably, the most important is the need to connect millions of people without access to electricity. A rapid scaling-up of solar capacity is vital also to meet the national goal of installing 100 gigawatts by 2022, a target that is being internationally monitored as part of the country’s pledges under the Paris Agreement on climate change. It will also be transformational for the environment, since pollution from large new coal-based power plants can be avoided. There is everything to gain by accelerating the pace of growth that essentially began in 2010, with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. Yet, performance has not matched intent and the target of installing 12 GW solar capacity in 2016-17 is far from attainable, since it fell short by almost 10 GW as of December.
A glaring lacuna in the national policy on renewables is the failure to tap the investment potential of the middle class. While grid-connected large-scale installations have received maximum attention, there is slow progress on rooftop solar. Clearly, adding capacity of the order of more than 10 GW annually over the next six years towards the 100 GW target will require active participation and investment by the buildings sector, both residential and commercial. This process can be kick-started using mass participation by citizens, with State electricity utilities being given mandatory time frames to introduce net-metering systems with a feed-in tariff that is designed to encourage the average consumer to invest in PV modules, taking grid electricity prices into account. The experience of Germany, where robust solar expansion has been taking place over the years, illustrates the benefits of policy guarantees for rooftop installations and feed-in tariffs lasting 20 years. SPV costs are expected to continue to fall, and tariffs paid both for large plants and smaller installations require periodic review. At some point, significant subsidies may no longer be necessary. That scenario, however, is for the future. Currently, India needs a lot more good quality power, which renewables provide. Solar power is an emissions-free driver of the economy, generating growth in both direct and indirect employment. A lot of sunlight remains to be tapped.
Religion, quenching animal thirst and public interests are some of the reasons cited by an environment ministry panel to recommend big ticket projects in and around India’s critical tiger and wildlife habitats.
About 50 such projects got nod at a meeting of the standing committee of the national board for wildlife (SC-NBWL) headed by environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, the minutes of the meeting released this week revealed.
Religion was invoked to allow widening of a road through Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh. The project is dubbed “public utility for the devotees” as it would provide better connectivity between Atmakur to Kolanu Bharathi Temple.
The minutes of the meeting held on January 3 said the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) recommended the project after due feasibility assessment carried out by a team of officers and scientists.
While allowing a check dam at Balaram Ambji sanctuary in Gujarat, the committee maintained that the water stored there will help wildlife to quench their thirst during dry season.
A large area of the sanctuary will be utilised for building the dam.
The committee recommended an approach canal through Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Narmada district of Gujarat, stating it will provide irrigation facilities to farmers of 10 villages.
The panel also allowed conversion of meter gauge line to broad gauge through Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra as Indian Railways claimed that an alternate route would result in “felling of thousand of trees”.
The minutes showed that the railway’s claim has not been vetted by any expert agency and the concerns of the NTCA on impact of the faster train line through the reserve on tiger dispersal, habitat connectivity for genetic exchange and protection failed to find much consideration.
Minister Dave overruled the concerns and allowed the project saying the mitigation measures by the NTCA would be enforced through a memorandum of understanding with railways.
Pushp Jain of non-government EIA Resource Centre, however, said the government has failed to provide any assessment of the habitat loss because of the alternate route that could have benefitted people in districts of Akola, Amravati and Bhandara.
Conservationists say the conversion will also result in cutting of the trees on 161 hectares of the forestland but the convoluted minutes fail to provide details.
Ravi Singh, chief executive officer of World Wide Fund (WWF) for nature said the standing committee was within its rights to take these decisions as they did not violate any law. “One has to consider the pressure of devotees or demand for development by locals. But, it does not mean that the government should not improve habitat for wildlife,” he told HT.
The NDA government has modified rules to expedite approvals in and around the wildlife areas for ease of doing business especially for mining, irrigation and linear projects.
An analysis of approvals by the highest advisory body of the environment ministry by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) showed that close to 400 projects have been approved by the NDA government in two-and-a-half years as compared to 260 by the UPA government in five years.
The rejection rate fell from 11.9% to 0.01% in the same period indicating that projects in green habitats have suddenly become feasible.
The CSE had said the ministry has introduced new norms to control pollution from these projects but panel members have expressed concern over monitoring its implementation.
The energy that would be available from renewable sources, nuclear and gas plants, both existing and planned, would be enough to meet India's energy demand for the next 7-8 years, which means no new investment in coal is needed at least till then, as per a report by TERI.
The Transitions in Indian Electricity Sector report predicts that per capita annual power consumption will increase from the current 1,075 kWh to 1,490 kWh in 2021-22, 2,121 kWh in 2026-27 and 2,634 kWh in 2029-30.
Under the report’s ‘high renewables scenario’, the country’s renewable energy capacity is set to increase to the targeted 175 GW level by 2021-22 and further grow to 275 GW by 2025-26.
“The results indicate that the energy that would be available from RE (renewable energy) sources, storage hydro, nuclear and gas plants would suffice for meeting the remainder of the demand for electricity at the national level during the next 7-8 years,” TERI said. “This would in other words mean that no new coal plants would be needed and the plant load factor (PLF) of coal based plants would be in the range of 78-80% in 2024–25 and 2025–26.”
With the energy mix set to undergo a radical change in the coming years, TERI said the Centre would do well to take steps to strengthen the grid infrastructure and build storage capacity.
“The increasing penetration of solar and wind (which have inherent high intermittency and variability) would no doubt present a number of challenges in respect to planning and operation,” it said. “...ensuring requisite flexibility in ramping up and down, improved forecasting of RE power as well as demand, improved financial health of utilities would be key factors in this context.”