NEW DELHI: There must be a standard set of rules for diversion of forest land for infrastructure projects under 10 sectors, including thermal power, mining and hydroelectricity, an expert committee under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recommended. Environmentalists, however, say this would be retrograde.
As of now, the rules to get forest clearance are different for each of these sectors. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), in a meeting on August 30, recommended standard Stage-I and Stage-II forest clearance conditions for hydroelectric, industry, irrigation, railway, mining, road, thermal, transmission, wind power and pipeline projects.
“The FAC... accepted the recommendation of Dr Tejender Singh’s committee regarding standard and general conditions for different projects. The project-wise standard Stage-I and Stage-II conditions along with template of forwarding letter with regard to various categories of projects is recommended to be incorporated with specific conditions in all approvals granted under the provisions of FCA 1980,” read the minutes of the meeting, which were submitted to the ministry. The recommendation for infrastructure projects comes within 100 days of the Environment ministry releasing similar standard conditions for clearance in 25 industrial sectors.
Kanchi Kohli, legal research director, CPR-Namati Environment Justice Programme, said the very idea of standard rules was retrograde as it meant getting environmental clearance was merely an administrative formality. “Each case of diversion (of forest land) is unique and requires deep inquiry of impact before decisions are taken. Through such a process, the government might be able to expedite approvals, but will fail in environmental stewardship.”
Aim is to simplify forest clearance process: Govt
Tushar Dash, of Vasundhara, working in the area of Forests Rights Act (FRA), expressed concern over the non-compliance with FRA even in the present legal regime.“All formats for forest clearance require a certificate from the collector to ensure FRA compliance. But the FRA and the guidelines issued earlier by the Ministry in 2009 require certificates from gram sabhas on completion of forest rights recognition process and the consent of the gram sabha. These statutory requirements are being rampantly violated in the forest clearance process, resulting in violation of forest rights across the states,” he said.
Environment Ministry officials said the attempt was to simplify and bring transparency in the whole process while cutting down unnecessary delays for appraising projects. Sources said the Ministry was likely to accept the FAC’s recommendations. Since May 2014, the ministry has taken a series of steps to ease green clearance rules for industry.
During 2014-17, 1,419 proposals for development projects involving 36,575 hectares of forest land were given forest clearances. The average processing time for green clearance has come down from 580 days to 180 days.