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New Delhi: The new government on Tuesday signalled that it would set up a single-window clearance system for capital-intensive steel, coal and power projects, as it seeks to lift flagging economic growth by speeding up approvals for investments.

The new facility, which could potentially help accelerate the execution of new and existing projects, will include contentious environmental and forest clearances that have held up numerous projects across the country.

“Getting all clearances at one go from different departments is not all that easy," steel and mines minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters on Tuesday. “There are different rules, different issues pertaining to different departments. Some matters are also pending in the courts. But the government wishes to adopt a single-window clearance and we are moving in that direction."

While the contours are yet to be worked out, it is likely, according to a person familiar with the development, that each project will be set up as a special purpose vehicle for which all clearances would have been approved in advance.

The template would be like the one adopted previously for the so-called ultra mega power projects or power plants with a capacity of 4,000 megawatts or more, but which met with limited success.

Tomar’s statement came after an inter-ministerial consultation between steel and mines, power and environment ministries. Environment and forest minister Prakash Javadekar and coal and power minister Piyush Goyal were also present at the meeting.

A top environment ministry official who did not wish to be named said single-window clearances were discussed in the meeting. “But it needs to be further discussed. We have said that it will require further discussions," the official said.

Mint had reported on 11 June that the steel ministry was working on a plan to revive investor interest in the sector by creating SPVs that will acquire all the government approvals required to start a steel plant, and then hand them over to private entities to go ahead with project implementation. The steel ministry has proposed that the National Mineral Development Corp. Ltd head the SPVs, along with the state mineral development corporation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, which came to power in the April-May general election, has put economic revival at the top of its policy agenda after two consecutive years of sub-5% growth.

In the past two years, numerous infrastructure projects have been stalled by delays in securing mandatory government and regulatory approvals, such as environment and forest clearances, and in completing land acquisition. These projects include South Korean steel maker Posco’s plant in Odisha that has been awaiting approvals for mining the Khandadhar iron ore block since 2005, and ArcelorMittal’s Jharkhand project, stuck for eight years pending approval of mining plans for the Seregarha coal block.

A steel company executive who did not wish to be named welcomed the proposed single-window clearance system but added that there should be clear timelines for getting these clearances.

Tomar added that the meeting also took up issues related to coking coal blocks for the steel industry and that one block would be kept aside for government-owned steel plants under a special dispensation.

“We have all decided that those projects which are within the law and which we can clear as soon as possible, we will do expeditiously so that steel production can go up, coal production can go up," Tomar said.

Goyal said the environment ministry would come out with a draft list of coal mines located in areas designated as “inviolate" by August this year. This would be put up for further discussion, he added.

According to him, a separate auction of coal blocks for the steel industry will be done speedily under a special dispensation. Goyal added that steps would be taken to increase the capacity of washeries in the Jharia coal fields to improve the supply of coking coal to the steel industry.

Mint had reported earlier this month that the environment ministry was looking to dilute parameters for identifying forest areas as inviolate. The existing six parameters were to be reduced to four.

Inviolate forest areas are those which are out of bounds for industrial or development activity.

The environment ministry official cited above said environment minister Javadekar had said the national board for wildlife (NBWL) will be set up immediately. NBWL is tasked with clearing projects that are set up within 10km of a national park or sanctuary in the country. Wildlife clearances for many projects are pending due to a delay in reconstituting the board.

A press statement issued after the meeting said the decisions of the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal pertaining to environmental clearance (EC) for mineral leases of area less than five hectares were also discussed. The environment ministry will scrutinize the rules enforced by the state governments in this regard and if the existing rules are enough to protect the environment “the applicability of the EC notification will be removed in all cases where the State Governments have been found to have issued rules".

The official quoted above said, however, that many states haven’t put such rules in place.

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