Undeterred by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh’s opposition, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is learnt to allowed Jindal Steel to mine in the core area of Singhbhum, India’s first elephant reserve, in Saranda, Jharkhand.

Sources confirmed to The Sunday Express that Natarajan’s ministry has approved the Forest Advisory Committee’s January 2013 decision to divert about 512 hectares of forest land for Ghatkuri iron ore mining lease project in Saranda, until recently a Maoist stronghold.

Incidentally, about two years before its latest decision, the FAC had considered Jindal Steel’s mining project in December 2011 meeting and “noted that the forest of Saranda is part of the core area of Singhbhum elephant reserve, which is one of the finest habitat for elephants”. The FAC is tasked under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 to advise the environment ministry on all matters involving diversions of forest land.

Ramesh, whose ministry launched the Saranda Development Plan to fill developmental gaps in the region in January 2012, has been vociferously arguing against giving fresh mining leases in Saranda, particularly to private miners. Though several private firms have signed MoUs with the Jharkhand government to mine the forest, as of now only the state-run Steel Authority of India Limited runs operations, which it had been allowed to expand by the environment ministry in 2009, then led by Ramesh.

Soon after FAC approved private mining in Saranda early this year, Ramesh had said it was “a huge setback and very retrograde” and called for a “larger and more sensitive political view” on the issue, especially since the Maoists had started propagating that Saranda Development Plan was a ploy to benefit private miners.

Singhbhum Elephant Reserve is spread over 13,440 sq km in six forest divisions, including Saranda, where Jindal Steel will now mine iron ore.

The FAC had also cleared, in February 2013, diversion of some 210 hectares in Jhillingburu forest division for SAIL to mine.

Courtesy: The Indian Express