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NEW DELHI : The government proposes to do away with the need for companies to obtain forest diversion clearance for undertaking mineral exploration in forest areas—seen as a cumbersome and time consuming process and an impediment to investment.

The changes to rules on forest clearance for mineral exploration have been included in amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, proposed to be introduced in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament post Cabinet clearance, an official aware of the development said.

With just over a week left for the Parliament session, the mines ministry is moving quickly to get Cabinet approval to the amendments so that the bill can be introduced, the official quoted above said.

As per the proposed changes, mineral survey and investigation activities such as reconnaissance and prospecting (exploration) operations undertaken within a period specified in the Act in forest land will no longer be considered as diversion of forest land for non-forest activities under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The amendments further specify that state governments may decide how to give permission for carrying out mineral exploration.

The changes would make the process of granting and operationalization of reconnaissance permits (RP) and prospecting licences (PL) swifter as forestry clearance for the exploration stage has been done away with. The changes are expected to attract more investment in mineral exploration as cumbersome processes and regulations are thought to have discouraged large mineral companies from activities that are crucial to harnessing India’s mineral resources.

The decision to do away with forestry clearance for RP and PL stages of mining activities follows a recommendation by a high level committee of Niti Aayog to make these changes in order to ease exploration activities.

Later, the environment ministry also moved a consultation paper for amending the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 to take mineral exploration out of the Act, arguing that it did not bring perceptible changes in forest land and biodiversity and was undertaken for short durations.

The ministry said RP and PL were given for activities that lasted just three to five years and that the ratio of conversion of exploration to mining leases was as low as 100:1. So, forest diversion clearance for such activity would not impact the country’s forest landscape.

Getting the approval of the central government for RP and PL was time-consuming, often making investors lose interest in projects where a mineral’s presence was yet to be established, the official said. For auctioning more blocks and enhance mineral production, more exploration is required to be conducted. Mining operations can be undertaken only after establishing the presence of minerals in an area. And in any case, forest clearance would have to be taken before starting mining operations.

India has abundant mineral resources, a significant portion of which is yet to be tapped. Availability of mineral resources would play a crucial role in determining India’s growth trajectory towards becoming Atmanirbhar Bharat and achieving a $5 trillion economy.

The proposed amendments also carry a slew of other reforms, all revolving around the idea of maximizing resource utilization without damaging the ecology. In all, there are six major amendments that the mines ministry has proposed.

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