NEW DELHI: Top authorities in the Union environment ministry have asked the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) to rationalise the penalty it has recommended for violations of Forest (Conservation) Act. The penalty has been levied on the ministry for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes without official approval.
The FAC is a panel of experts appointed by the ministry to appraise infrastructure projects involving diversion of forest land. The body makes recommendations, but the decision is taken by the Union environment minister.
This panel in its meeting on February 17 recommended that penalty be imposed. “The Penal levies (Net Present Value (NPV) of the forest land, Compensatory Afforestation amount) for the violation of the provisions of FCA 1980, shall be deposited in the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund,” it noted.
During examination of the FAC’s recommendation, the competent authority observed there is need to rationalise the amount of penalty. Sources said, the competent authority is the environment minister. The committee noted that in most cases, somebody or the other from the officials or authorities of the states are party to violation. The penalty recovered is credited to state CAMPA for use in the same states. It can run into several crores depending on the size of forest diversion.
The penalty is five times NPV, which is amount (`5.8 to `10.43 lakh per hectare) deposited by user agency to compensate for afforestation. During the rule of NDA government, reports of construction through forests marked for conservation have come to the fore on occasions. The government has also been accused of overlooking environment in its development drives.
“A few times, violation takes place without the user agency being aware of the land being forest land or being misguided into believing it to be non-forest land, particularly in the absence of accurate record. In such cases penalty needs to be less compared to cases where PP knowingly encroached upon forest land with/without knowledge of state authority,” noted the FAC on May 31 .