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Oct 13, 2017 10:45 AM IST | Source:

Govt eases norms for atomic mineral mining in coastal regions

The Environment Ministry has relaxed guidelines for mining of atomic minerals like uranium in fragile coastal regions saying the move is in the "public interest".

The Environment Ministry has relaxed guidelines for mining of atomic minerals like uranium in fragile coastal regions saying the move is in the "public interest".

The decision by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), notified on October 6, allows mining in fragile coastal areas even though the minerals are found elsewhere, according to a Livemint report.

The move is in line with the government's overall push for atomic power, where India has set a target to produce 63 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear energy by 2032. Currently, the country has an installed nuclear capacity of 6.7GW.

The notification stated that "atomic minerals are required for strategic and other requirements by the Department of Atomic Energy (under the central government) and are processed for strategic applications including power generation".

It also listed 11 atomic minerals whose extraction from the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) will not be considered illegal. The list includes beryl, lithium, rare-earth minerals containing uranium and thorium, niobium, phosphorites and other phosphatic ores containing uranium and thorium minerals. Titanium-bearing minerals, tantallium-bearing minerals and zirconium-bearing minerals are also included.

The list also includes the Titanium-bearing minerals, tantallium-bearing minerals and zirconium-bearing minerals.

The guidelines state necessary safety measures for mining in CRZ areas. Mining in these zones is allowed only through “manual mining”, that is, using “baskets and hand spades for collection of ore or mineral” and using bars for “drilling and blasting or heavy earth-moving machinery”.

Earlier, the government had said it was considering involving private mining companies for exploration and production of atomic minerals as part of its strategy to expand nuclear power-generation capacity.

According to experts, the step involving an amendment to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) will potentially increase the vulnerability of India's fast-eroding coastal stretches.

“The key amendment allows for mining of atomic minerals like uranium or titanium in CRZ areas even if they are found outside CRZ areas. This is a big shift from the earlier practice. Earlier, mining of rare minerals could be carried out with environment ministry’s permission only if they are not found anywhere else,” Kanchi Kohli, a legal research director at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Programme, told the paper.

The amendment opens CRZ-1, the most sensitive coastal zone, for manual extraction. Until date, strict norms were applied to any activities carried out or allowed in this zone.

“It also opens up inter-tidal areas of CRZ-1 for manual extraction, which increases the vulnerability of the fast-eroding coastal stretches. Given the widespread implications for all of CRZ, it was important that this notification be debated on public interest, rather than introducing without any feedback in the name of public interest,” she added.

The country has over 1,400 sq. km of atomic mineral-rich area, out of which nearly 1,000 sq. km is along the coast. The government plans to offer the area with minerals available below specified thresholds “for prospecting and production through competitive bids”.

Norms relating to mining in the coastal zones in India have been facing controversies since 1991 when the government brought out the first CRZ notification restricting industrial activities.

It remained as the main regulatory framework for conservation and protection of the country’s 7,500km coastline until it was revised comprehensively in 2011, after being amended for 25 times.

In June 2014, the NDA government constituted a committee to look into issues raised by various coastal states regarding the 2011 CRZ notification. The committee was headed by Shailesh Nayak, then secretary in the ministry of earth sciences.

The panel submitted a 110-page report with recommendations to change the existing rules related to the development of coastal areas in January 2015. The MoEFCC is yet to take a final call on the report, however, it had made about eight changes to CRZ rules based on the panel's recommendations.
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