Under attack for shoddy work in clearing forest projects, the forest bureaucracy has hit back terming the non-official members in the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) -mandated to examine proposals for diversion of forestland - as foreign agents and having a conflict of interest.
Three non-official members of FAC - Mahesh Rangarajan, Ullas Karanth and Amita Bavaskar - had accused Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officials in the environment ministry of favouring private project proponents in getting forest clearance by withholding key ecology related information.
The letter had upset IoFS officials, who believed it was a campaign by NGOs to malign their service.
Hitting back, VK Bahuguna, director of Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) and president of Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officers association, said the problem with the FAC was appointment of non-official members from foreign funded NGOs having conflict of interest.
Bahuguna, who had worked as inspector general forests in the ministry, said that in the past, the non-official members in the FAC used to be experts in the field of mining or water or power or forestry.
"The present FAC consists of three non-official members who have no exposure in forestry or main sectors requiring forest lands, except one who is working in a very specialised field of wildlife and thus has very limited relevance to forestry clearance requirements," he said, in his response to letter by FAC's non-official members.
Accusing the non-official members of being biased and trying to cover their lack of understanding, the association said that these members had never recorded their dissent on the decisions of FAC on inadequacy of information.
"We as professional foresters would like to emphasise that enough information is provided in the factsheet of proposals for taking decision," the association said, terming their views as that of activists and not experts.
Supporting the present working style of FAC as an "excellent example of transparency", the association said that the work of the committee had gone down because large number of posts of IFS officers were vacant.
The association, however, ignored the fact that the FAC secretariat had failed to put the agenda or the minutes of the meeting on the ministry's website on time.
The association had asked Natarajan to revamp the FAC by hiring expert non-official members and filling up the vacant posts in the ministry forest division. It also wanted Forest Survey of India to be part of FAC to provide requisite information on forests at the meetings.