The National Green Tribunal has pulled up the environment ministry for failing to place the forest approvals given to projects in a timely manner and has instructed the ministry to place all approvals in public domain within five days of the decision taken.
The tribunal's order came in relation to a plea by Bimal Gogoi and Rohit Chaudhary against forest clearance to 1750 MW Demwe Lower Hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh, where the ministry had failed to place the approval letter in public domain.
Although the ministry places the recommendations of its two statutory bodies --- forest advisory committee and expert appraisal committee --- the final decision of the ministry remains shrouded in secrecy. The ministry's website only lists the recommendations of the two bodies but not the final approval given by the ministry. This is despite the Supreme Court in 2011 asking the ministry to upload all forest clearance on its website. However, the no timeframe was given by the court resulting in the ministry dilly dallying on implementing the court's order.
Setting the record straight, the NGT has asked the ministry to place approval letters on its website within a week so that people aggrieved by the decision can seek redressal. As the NGT law, a petition against an approval has to be filed within 30 days of the approval, which can be extended by another 60 days if the a justified reason for the delay.
Inspector General of Forests in the ministry A K Shrivastava, however, blamed the National Informatics Centre for the delaying in displaying the approval given to the projects. "The delay is caused by NIC and the MoEF is not at fault," Shrivastava told the tribunal.
His argument was not accepted by the court on the ground that good governance mandates that the general public should be aware of the forest clearance. "Immense prejudice shall be caused to persons aggrieved if the forest clearance is not published or notified," the tribunal said in its order.
The NGT also directed the state forest departments to display the forest clearances on their respective websites within seven days of receipt of information or display by MoEF on its website, whichever is earlier. The tribunal also directed the project proponents should get it published the decision in the local newspapers.