In what is seen as having long-term implications for conservation of forests, the Union Environment Ministry has decided to review the status of pending forest clearance and expedite the process. Forest clearance is a key component of environment clearance required for several projects in key sectors. Because of this, projects, particularly in sensitive zones such as wildlife sanctuaries, have been held up.
Following a meeting held by the Union Environment Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha last week, a decision has been taken to review the status of pending forest clearance and expedite the process, an official communique said here today. Special Secretary in the Environment Ministry R R Rashmi will hold a meeting, in which all officers concerned from the ministry, nodal officer, regional officer and project proponents will be invited. The meeting will review the cases where the projects have been apprised by the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) and recommended the grant of environmental clearance, but are being held up because of Forest Clearance-Stage I.
The ministry has also decided that all EACs will hold at least two meetings in April and May for the appraisal of projects, with special emphasis on those pertaining to different ministries, the communique said.
Forest clearance has been a sticky issue with environment activists and local communities often opposing it. Development project proponents have, on the other hand, been pressing for early clearance quoting huge delays on this account.
The Centre for Science and Environment had in an analysis of two years of the Union government, indicated that the average rate of forestland diversion has reduced when compared to UPA-II tenure. However, the rejection rate of projects continues to be very low ~ rejection of projects coming up in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has reduced under this government.
The mining and infrastructure sector remains a focus of green clearances, the CSE report said. More than 300 projects (new and expansion) combining coal and non-coal mining have been given ECs by the present government in its two years in power. Among these are 68 coal mining projects. Similarly for forest clearances, the highest share of total forestland diversion is for mining projects ~ of about 47,473 hectares of land diverted (combining in-principle and final approvals), 29 per cent is for mining.
Similarly, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund that was passed by Parliament last year will make available more than Rs 6,000 crore per annum for forest and wildlife resources of the country. Many environmentalists have also termed this as a "fig leaf" to cover up the increasing diversion of forests in the name of development.