NEW DELHI: At least 18 infrastructure projects, including six located inside protected areas and tiger reserves, were given green clearances without seeking further information or conducting a site visit as mandated in the last meeting of the wildlife panel headed by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.
An analysis released by EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), an environmental watch group, said that the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), in its meeting held in June, discussed 40 new projects for clearance, of which 23 were immediately cleared and not a single project was declined.
Of the six cleared projects in protected areas, at least half were in tiger reserves and the committee ordered site inspections only after granting clearance for these projects.
The analysis further shows that close to 70 per cent of the clearances awarded were for linear projects cutting across protected areas. These included roads and railways (11 projects), canals and pipelines (two) and transmission lines and optic fibre cables (three). Three projects located within critical elephant corridors were also cleared.
According to the analysis, the Standing Committee evaluated these projects in a short span of time based on a briefing by the Member Secretary and a cursory reading of the furnished project documents indicates a lack of seriousness in appraising individual projects. “In an absurd mockery of the order of things, the Committee ordered site inspections after granting clearance for six projects located inside protected areas. This takes away the opportunity of rejection based on the opinion of independent experts/ forest department officials and only allows an opportunity to propose mitigation measures,” said Suman Jumani, research associate, ERC. The Committee cleared projects that were rejected by previous SC-NBWL.
Projects cleared in protected areas without site inspection include widening of NH17, passing through Karnala Bird Sanctuary, Maharashtra, construction of a police community building in the range of Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, Chhattisgarh, and laying of a drinking water pipeline in Mukunda Hills Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan.