The Ministry of Environment on Monday issued fresh guidelines exempting linear projects from the requirement of obtaining consent of gram sabha or village council under the Forest Rights Act.
The new guidelines, issued after Union Tribal Affairs Minister K C Deo’s nod and a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would fasten the environmental clearances required for road and canal construction, laying of pipelines, optical fibre and transmission lines and similar projects.
The new norm supersedes an August 3, 2009, order that made mandatory the approval from the gram sabhas affected by such projects.
For long, the Environment Ministry has been blamed by other ministries for project delays. To bail out the ministry, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Monday released the details of the projects held up at various stages of approval.
She claimed 101 projects, which needed diversion of over 57,469 hectares of forest land for non-forest purposes, were pending due to various reasons such as incomplete documentation and non-availability of site inspection reports. At least 16 road projects, 22 mining (non-coal), 14 coal mining, four defence and seven hydel projects were in the pending list.
“A wrong impression is being created that the Ministry of Environment is a bottleneck to development. The government is for sustainable development... We are a partner in development of this country and we consider that protecting environment is an important part of this partnership,” Natarajan said.
She brandished figures to dispel wrong notions. Of all projects that came for approval of forest land, 74 per cent were handled by the state governments. Only 17 per cent, which involved five to 40 hectares of forest land diversion, were handled by regional offices of the ministry. And the ministry in Delhi handled just nine per cent of projects that involved diversion of over 40 hectares of forest land.
Natarajan said 32 road, 12 hydel and 14 power projects were pending for environmental clearances. Either additional information have been sought on most of them or have been considered in the last meeting held in January and a final decision pending on them.
“My object in giving all the details is to show that there is no delay in terms of processing,” Natarajan said.