New Delhi: Expressing concern over the use of groundwater for coal-related projects, the expert panel of the Union environment ministry has deferred giving clearance to a coal washery project in Odisha. It, however, recommended environment clearance for another coal washery project in Chhattisgarh but stipulated that it should make efforts to use alternative sources of surface water.
The projects were considered by the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) for thermal and coal mining projects at its recent meeting on 30-31 May.
The EAC was considering granting terms of reference (ToR) for a coal washery project in Jharsuguda district of Odisha. ToRs are guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies of projects, based on which the expert panel recommends or rejects environment clearances to a project.
EAC was informed that the total projected water requirement of 612 cubic meters per day is proposed to be sourced through groundwater and they will obtain prior permission from the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) for it.
“The EAC, after detailed deliberations, was of the opinion that such a quantum of groundwater withdrawal needs to be discouraged, and accordingly other alternative sites are to identified for the washery," it noted at its meeting, whose minutes were reviewed by Mint.
The Committee also desired that “in view of more and more projects coming up in the area and the pollution potential so involved, a study on environmental carrying capacity of the region should be conducted by a research organization of national repute."
“The proposal was, therefore, deferred," the minutes said.
Over the past few years, over-exploitation of groundwater has emerged as a serious concern for state governments as well as the central government. As per an official assessment by the central government, out of 6,607 assessment units in the country, 1,071 assessment units in 15 states and 3 union territories are categorized as ‘over-exploited’.
Meanwhile, the other project that was evaluated by EAC with usage of groundwater in mind was a coal washery project in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh which sought environment clearance.
“For the huge requirement of water to the tune of 955 cubic meters per day for coal washing and that too groundwater, the committee desired to explore possibilities of alternative sources of surface water, abandoned mines or whatsoever, to meet the water requirements," the minutes said.
EAC recommended the proposal for grant of environmental clearance but held that the technology chosen for the washery should conform to the ‘zero liquid discharge’ policy and that “efforts shall be made for utilizing alternative sources of surface water... thus minimizing the dependence on groundwater".
A zero liquid discharge system completely eliminates liquid discharge and promotes recycling and reuse of waste water.
“Information in this regard shall be furnished to the (environment) ministry within six months (by December 2017) for review of the environment clearance conditions," the minutes said.