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May 13, 2013 at 10:20am IST

PMO put pressure on MoEF to ease coal mining rules, reveals RTI query

New Delhi: Just two days after the removal of Ashwani Kumar as Law Minister over the coal scam, there seems to be more trouble for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A Right to Information application shows that it was the Prime Minister's Office that put pressure on the Environment Ministry to ease environmental rules to allow expansion in coal mining projects.

In a recent landmark judgement, the Supreme Court has upheld the rights of tribals to decide whether mining should be allowed on their forest or not. But the PMO's office, in an effort to speed up reforms process, is doing exactly the opposite.

An RTI application with CNN-IBN's clearly shows a series of letters from the Prime Ministers Office to the Environment Ministry asking for environmental safeguards to be relaxed for coal mining projects, more specifically the clause of public hearing for expansion of coal mining projects.

The letter dated October 2012 by Pulok Chatterjee to Environment Minister Jayanathi Natarajan asks her Ministry for 'doing away with the necessity of public hearings for obtaining environment clearance in cases where 25 per cent expansion is required.

Following this order from the PMO, in December 2012, the Environment Ministry went ahead and diluted the rule, thus, allowing companies to skip the process of public hearings, in case of 25 per cent expansion for a green nod. Sources in the Environment Ministry have confirmed that there was tremendous pressure put on the Minister Jayanthi Natarajan to allow this relaxation of rules.

One reason could be the complaints from industry that the environment clearance process is lengthy, but even a cursory glance at the data from the Environment Ministry suggests that the MoEF has granted environmental clearance to generate 2,10,000 MW power - that is 60,000 MW more power than has been proposed until 2017.

The PMO with this intervention may have sent out a friendly message to industry, but with the relaxation of just one rule, he's taken away that one democratic tool available to people in environmental decision making.