NEW DELHI: JSW Steel and Jindal Power and Steel have secured a key green clearance to mine iron ore and manganese in Asia’s largest sal forest in a Naxal-affected area of Jharkhand.

The Forest Advisory Committee’s approval for mining in the Saranda Forests now awaits endorsement of Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who will have to weigh the benefits of economic growth against concerns of uprooting dense forests.

Saranda is a sensitive area, which was under Maoist control for a decade before paramilitary forces seized control in 2011. Mining in the area could derail Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh’s Saranda Development Plan, which was launched to counter the influence of the Naxals.

Ramesh told ET he was concerned about fresh mining in the region. “The environment and forests minister will take the final decision on the projects. However, if fresh mining proposals are allowed, I can no longer guarantee that the Saranda Development Plan will be embraced enthusiastically by locals. This is a critical decision, consequences of which will reverberate much beyond Saranda in other Maoist-affected areas.”

Sources said Ramesh has separately written to the PM and the environment minister urging against opening up the Saranda Forest.

The committee dealing with forest clearances has given the two companies the go-ahead for the diversion of 1,500 ha of dense forests in the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. JSW Steel had sought the diversion of nearly 1,000 hectares to mine iron ore and manganese from the Ankua Reserve Forest, just 6 km away from the high-priority Ankua-Ambia Elephant Corridor. Jindal Steel and Power sought the diversion of 500 ha for the Ghatkuri iron ore mine. The diversion will affect some 87,000 trees in the area, which is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna.

The Forest Advisory Committee has cited the ministry’s decision to allow forest diversion for iron ore mines for SAIL in the area. In February 2011, the ministry had overruled the FAC to allow SAIL to mine iron ore from the Chiria mines in the area.

Ramesh and Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo have consistently called for a moratorium on fresh mining, particularly by private companies, in Naxal-affected areas. Last July Ramesh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warning about “propaganda by Maoists, their front organisations and sympathisers that the Saranda Development Plan is only meant to subserve private mining interests.”

Courtesy: The Economic Times