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Environmental Panel for allowing Tata Steel to raise output at Sukhinda chromite mines

NEW DELHI: An environment panel has recommended that Tata SteelBSE 0.59 % be allowed to expand its production from theSukhinda chromite mines in Odisha, paving the way for the company to resume operations that were suspended in January. 

The expert appraisal committee for mining decided to recommend clearance for enhancing production from the chromite mine and to allow change in technology from open cast to underground mining at its meeting on April 16. The recommendation now awaits a final nod from the environment minister. 

Operations at the mine were suspended in January after the mining lease expired and fresh environmental clearance was rejected. The environment ministry had amended its notification for obtaining environmental clearance for mines awaiting renewal to give a two-year grace period, ending April 2013. The developers were mandated to get environmental clearances for renewal of mines with leases expiring on November 4, 2011 or after. This decision made it possible for developers like Tata Steel, who had to halt production from November 2011, to resume mining. 

The expert appraisal committee had considered the proposal at its earlier meeting in March. However, the absence of a certified compliance report from the ministry's regional office and the concerns about exceeding the permissible height for the overburden dump meant that the clearance could not be given. 

At its April meeting, the panel also took up complaints submitted by the 
Biju Swabhiman Dalon violations of clearance provisions by Tata Steel. The complaint stated that Tata Steel had used more forest land than its was permitted, destroyed trees, allowed for high levels of air, water, and environmental pollution. It charged the company of illegal mining-extracting morechromium than it had been permitted under the clearance provisions - and that it was selling off the chromium as the company's chrome ore beneficiation plant was of a smaller capacity than the total chromium being mined. The complainant also charged Tata Steel of subverting the public hearing by hiring miscreants to create disturbances. A company representative who was present at the meeting replied to all these issues. 

The panel, "based on the information submitted, presentation made and discussions held regarding the responses made by the project proponent," recommended the project for environmental clearance.