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MoEF panel rejects clearance for Arcelor's Saranda mine

Steel giant ArcelorMittal India’s project to mine iron and manganese over 202.35 hectares of forest in the Sal forests of Saranda, Jharkhand, has been rejected a forest clearance by an expert panel of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The company had planned to feed the iron to its proposed 12 metric tonnes per annum steel plant, a project pegged at Rs 50,000 crore. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the ministry took up the project for appraisal on January 10 in an urgent consultation, on directions of the Delhi High Court.

On January 9, the HC passed an order directing the FAC to consider the forest clearance issue expeditiously so that in case the project is cleared, the company could execute the mining lease before expiry on January 11.

While rejecting the proposal, the FAC said that, “any decision to allow mining leases or open up new areas in Saranda forest for mining needs to be taken after careful thought, particularly on the likely adverse effect on the ecology of the area.” It added that, “it is not desirable for the state government to assign forest land by way of lease in Saranda forest region” till the plan for sustainable mining in Saranda is finalised based on the Carrying Capacity Study by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and on the Integrated Wildlife Management Plan.

“Considering the facts and circumstances in the present case, it is not recommended to grant approval under Section 2 (iii) of Forest Conservation Act, 1980,” the FAC said.

Mining in Saranda forest, where the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve is notified, has been in controversy since the UPA years. The MoEF, during the tenure of former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, had cleared a mining project over 500 hectares of forest. The clearance had come under the scanner of Central Bureau of Investigation. It had also caused a tussle between Natarajan and her colleague Jairam Ramesh, the then Rural Development Minister, who criticised the project nod, as he was working on the Saranda Development Plan.