The government’s fight against Left Wing Extremism has suffered a green blow.
The environment ministry has not agreed to a proposal to allow removal of trees in area of up to 30 meters of the existing and proposed roads in 60 worst Left Wing Extremism (LWE) districts.The proposal having a twin objective – to check assault on patrolling security forces and speed up development of new roads – could have meant felling of up to about 90 lakh trees along 4,000 kms existing and 5,400 kms of the proposed roads.
Since 2009 and till May 2011, 365 security personnel have been killed by Maoists, mostly in surprise attacks from dense forests around many of these roads.
“The dense forest along roads is also an easy getaway after the attack,” a senor government official explained.
The road transport ministry had also complained that only 540 kms of the proposed 5,400 kms could be constructed in two four years because of inadequate security.
“The dense forest is a huge impediment in providing security covers for those working on roads,” the official said. In many regions like Bastar in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra , because of high security risk, contractors are not coming forward to take up projects.
These concerns had resulted in a proposal seeking an exemption of environment ministry’s prior approval to cut trees along these roads to thwart any surprise attacks. Earlier, the ministry had allowed diversion of up to five hectares of forestland in the 60 naxal affected districts with its prior approval for developmental works such as construction of schools and dispensaries.
“Such large scale felling may give rise to commercial interests in the guide of security concerns,” the environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee said, while rejecting the proposal. “Given that many of these districts have extensive forests, any such blanket permission would lead to extensive loss of forest with no oversight”.
The FAC – the statutory body under the Forest Conservation Act to decide on diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes – was also of the view that the newly opened stretches will have provided an open invitation for encroachment. “It would not have resulted only in permanent loss of the valuable forest land but would have also severely affected the adjoining forest and dependent communities,” the FAC said.
The ministry had accepted the FAC’s view as India’s tribal belt, also home of worst naxalism, has country’s best forest cover. As against the national average of 21 %, the tribal districts have a forest cover in 37 % of its total geographical area.
(Inputs from Moushumi Das Gupta)