Public hearings are mandated as part of the environmental clearance process for certain projects under the Environment (Protection) Act. They are the only existing formal means of consultation under Indian law for both indigenous and non-indigenous project-affected communities.
In its meeting in July 2015, the Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (Coal Mining) rejected Coal India Limited’s plea asking for an exemption from conducting mandatory environmental public hearings for expanding mine production by up to 50%.
TheMinistry of Coal has been vocal about doubling India’s domestic coal production by 2019. However, this cannot come at the price of removing the only existing means of consultation with project-affected communities. Their voices are crucial in ensuring environmental compliance and ensuring companies live up to their responsibilities.
So far, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has already allowed for the exemption of a wide category of coal mine expansions from public hearings.
On 30 May 2014, the MoEFCC issued an executive memorandum stating that existing coal mines with a production capacity of up to 16 mtpa (million tonnes per annum) would not need to conduct public hearings with project-affected communities before expanding their capacity by up to 50 per cent.
On 28 July, the Ministry extended the exemption from conducting public hearings to mines with a capacity above 16 mtpa seeking to expand their capacity by up to 5 mtpa. On 2 September, the Ministry issued another memorandum, exempting mines with a production capacity of over 20 mtpa seeking to expand capacity by up to 6 mtpa from conducting public hearings.