A controversial move by the Union Environment Ministry to outsource monitoring of forest clearances to agencies and individual experts has kicked up a row.
Even while welcoming the move to ensure proper monitoring, greens point out the need for these agencies to be accountable.
As per the ‘Draft policy on inspection, verification, monitoring and overall procedure relating to grant of forest clearance and identification of forests’, released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the ministry will prepare a panel of accredited institutions/individual experts to monitor compliance to conditions stipulated in the approvals.
The MoEF will develop a systematic random sampling method to select the project to be monitored during a month and communicate the same to institutions.
The identified institution/individual experts will prepare a monitoring report indicating violation/ non-compliance, if any, to conditions stipulated in the approval and submit the same within seven days after inspection of the project site. The report would be submitted to the MoEF and regional office concerned.
“Currently MoEF’s regional centres monitor these clearances. Now, if monitoring is outsourced it has to be ensured that there is proper compliance of various pre-conditions related like compensatory afforestation, catchment restoration and rehabilitation. The MoEF has to ensure on ground compliance of these conditions,” environmental groups said. The draft also proposes the action needed to be taken in case of violations or non-compliance.
If there are violations, the regional office should bring it to notice of the state government and direct the government to take immediate necessary action to ensure compliance. However, if the violation observed is of serious nature having adverse impact on the flora/fauna and environment, the regional office should initiate action within seven days to keep the approval in abeyance, the notification stated.
There are apprehensions about the nature of agencies monitoring the clearance or their level of independence.
“It is not clear whether the monitoring agencies will be independent. If they are, what’s the level of independence? These agencies need to be accountable and transparent. Also outsourcing could make monitoring costlier also,” pointed out environmental groups.
They further demanded that communities affected by the projects should also be included in the process of monitoring forest clearances. It has been pointed out that severe staff shortage at the ministry’s regional offices is one of the prime reasons why monitoring of forest clearances is not being done properly. Also in its draft the MoEF has not mentioned about the remuneration for monitoring agencies.