NIB gets PMO nod, green clearances for mines eased

The Prime Minister's Office has given its go-ahead to the finance ministry's proposal to set up a National Investment Board (NIB), asking it to rework the cabinet note and bring it for formal approval soon.

It has also separately directed the environment ministry to immediately issue orders saying fresh environment clearance will not be needed for coal mines to increase their production by 25 per cent. Also, it has asked the ministry not to insist on fresh clearances each time the lease of a mine is renewed.

The environment ministry's objections to the NIB, flagged by its minister Jayanti Natarajan in a letter to the prime minister, have not found much favour — with the broad view being the NIB must be sufficiently empowered to take decisions on major projects. This was decided after a meeting of all stakeholders chaired by Pulok Chatterji, the PM's principal secretary.

With projects worth over Rs 7 lakh crore stalled due to reasons including environmental issues, the aim is to get the NIB to get projects off the ground. Sources said the reworking in the note is not very drastic, and is related to points raised by other ministries.

The environment ministry had objected to the NIB being given overriding powers that could overrule decisions of the ministry and quasi-legal bodies. However, sources said, it was felt that the NIB was only going to look at projects with a value of over Rs 1,000 crore, especially those of national significance.

The other two directions to the environment ministry are aimed at addressing coal shortages that have caused a power crisis across the country and hurt key economic sectors.

The insistence on a fresh clearance each time there was an increase in production was a major bottleneck for stepping up coal output. Each environment clearance was against a specific amount of coal to be mined. The ministry was insisting that a fresh clearance along with a public hearing would be needed even if production were to be increased through better technology and machinery.

Given the uncertain and time-consuming nature of this process, sources said, no effort was being made to increase production. After several rounds of consultations, the PMO issued orders to the ministry to issue the notification.

Similarly, the condition for a repeat environmental clearance each time there was a lease renewal meant a mine would fall into disuse for long periods. Lease periods, sources said, are not concurrent with environmental clearances; there is no need to link them because a clearance could well have been granted recently.

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