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is the environment ministry responsible for the shortfall in coal production?

a red letter day. i had two stories in the paper today. the first explored a rather curious contradiction. all this time, we have been hearing that the environment ministry has been diluting environment and forest clearance processes and clearing every project that hoves into sight. at the same time, there is this insistence by indian industry that environment and forest clearances take forever to come through. that, sometimes, they do not come through at all.

this latter assertion is being repeated loudly once again now — that the real reason for coal shortages in india is the environment ministry. this is a tad worrying. for, as you know, india’s forests are in a bad shape. also, in the runup to the redrafting of india’s environmental impact assessment notification, one had heard similar refrains, resulting in a overhaul of the environmental clearance process in 2006. today, six years later, the same complaints are being made all over again. which is strange: has nothing changed at all in all this time?

today’s story examines this contradiction, principally by parsing a spreadsheet ET got from the MoEF. this is a list of all projects that applied for forest clearances for their coal blocks between 1982 and now. it is a striking document. it suggests that coal approvals have indeed been high. it also suggests, on the back of some rough calculation, that the rate at which forest clearances for coal blocks have come through has been speeding up.

what does this mean? is the ministry data wrong? are projects getting stuck at the state/central government level? are companies complaining about env and forest clearances purely to get them diluted further? or, in a country where most coal blocks have not moved into production, are companies using the environment ministry as an excuse to hold onto coal reserves for as long as possible? some other reason?

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