Two independent members appointed in newly constituted Forest Advisory Committee--- a statutory body to consider diversion of forest land--- by the environment ministry on Monday have been vocal supporters of industrial projects, claimed civil society bodies.
The government nominates three independent members in the FAC to holistically strike a balance between development projects and forest conservation. This is because the remaining five members of FAC are foresters from the ministry.
After expiry of controversial three-year term of independent members, who had opposed several projects, the ministry nominated KY Nayti, advisor at industry body the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), N P Todaria, dean at Gharwal University and Mohammad Firoz Ahmed of Assam based NGO Aaranyak as independent members of FAC.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said the nominations have been made in the best interests of forest conservation. “Nyati is not with CII and is a freelancer and Todari has done lot of academic work on forestry sector,” she said, while citing reasons for their nominations.
The ministry’s notification, however, fails to mention the background of the independent members.
Nayati is principal advisor CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development and heads Sustainable Mining Initiative, a company to promote interests of mining, mineral processing and other mineral-based industries. He has resigned from main CII.
His bio-data on website of NGO Lead India, says he provides consultancy and training services to the Indian industry in the environment field. “He has regular interaction with the Ministry of Environment & Forest and regulatory bodies in the country on policy matters on behalf of Indian Industry,” says the website.
Todaria, a professor in forestry, has been supportive of sudden jump of hydel projects on river Ganga in Uttarakhand and has been consultant for hydel projects involving diversion of forestland in Uttarakhand. When the government’s premier organization Wildlife Institute of India (WII) described adverse impact of hydel projects on wildlife, he shot-off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accusing WII of basing its report on misleading information.
“Quick and unscientific approach to address the issues of interest in CEIA (Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment) by a reputed institute like WII has already started misleading the decision makers and impacting development of hydropower in Uttarakhand. Not only is this dangerous for the state but it is also likely to impact the overall development of the country in future,” he said in his letter to PM.
“Both these appointments are unacceptable and will be disastrous for the forests of India,” said Himanshu Thakkar of NGO South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers and People representing several civil society groups across India. “Their appointment should be immediately cancelled and only genuinely independent members should be appointed on FAC.”
Natarajan felt that the earlier experience of the new members would help in sustainable mining through closed mining practices and protect forests. “FAC is only a recommending body. The final decision rests with the minister,” she said, on claims of NGOs against the nominations.
However, third member Ahmed has forest background as he is a project manager with NGO Aaranyak, which received funds from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for conducting tiger estimation in 2010 and from Assam forest department to monitor wildlife population in Kaziranga national park in the state.