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The arbitrariness in environmental clearance system that Rahul Gandhi referred to at a conference in December last year has indeed been bizarre in several cases.  One instance in point is the blatant, unwarranted delay in grant of approval to Central Coalfields Limited’s (CCL’s) project to expand coal production at Kathara block in East Bokaro Coalfield in Jharkhand. 
The project, which should have been granted environmental clearance within a year, thus suffered delay of four years. The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ expert appraisal committee (EAC)  for coal mining projects specified terms of reference for undertaking environment impact assessment (EIA) on this project on 31st December 2008.
Records show that EAC exempted the project from public hearing as “no forestland is involved. No additional land is required.” 
The Committee also noted that resettlement and rehabilitation of persons is not required in this case as no one would be displaced. The project envisaged a nominal production of about a million tonnes per annum from a mine that has residual life of seven years. 
CCL, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited, had already planted trees on 66 hectares of reclaimed and vacant land.   
CCL submitted EIA report and applied for environmental clearance in August 2009. EAC considered the project on 22 September 2009 and twice in 2010. EAC’s sub-committee visited the project site in January 2011. EAC finally recommended the project for grant of environmental approval in March 2011. 
Instead of issuing the approval, MOEF called for public hearing on the project in May 2011. CCL complied with this directive in November 2011.
In a letter dated 19th June 2013 addressed to MOEF, CCL listed the tortuous process through which it went through and beseeched for environmental clearance “at the earliest.” 
 EAC re-considered the project and recommended it for clearance in October 2013. 
Environmental approval, however, continued to elude CCL during the dubious regime of the Minister for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan. It was only after Mrs. Natarajan’s exit from MOEF that CCL saw the light at the end of procedural tunnel. 
The company was issued environmental approval on 8th January 2014. 

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