In a bid to attract foreign investment, the government may soon ease norms for seeking gram sabha consent for starting a project - considered a huge roadblock for the infrastructure sector.
Several ministries, including road transport and coal, objected to the condition of mandatory consent of the gram sabha, a body of villagers, saying it was causing unnecessary delay in starting a particular project.
The Forest Rights Act, under which this condition has been stipulated, fails to prescribe a time limit within which the gram sabha's views have to be obtained. The environment ministry in 2009 made the consent of gram sabha mandatory for granting final approval to projects in forest areas.
Road transport minister CP Joshi and commerce minister Anand Sharma had written to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, seeking relaxation in norms on seeking gram sabha consent to speed up the forest approval process for major infrastructure projects.
Joshi had said that the project proponent is required to take the consent of a number of gram sabhas, considering that a road has to pass through many villagers. Sharma wanted the removal of the gram sabha condition as it delayed projects and led to unnecessary litigation.
According to data available with the government, obtaining forest clearances has become much slower ever since the environment ministry's 2009 circular.
Delay in green clearances has been cited as the biggest reason for increase in cost of infrastructure projects by Rs. 52,000 crore till May this year.
New infrastructure projects worth Rs. 1,25,000 crore have been delayed.
"We don't have a problem if the 2009 circular is modified," a senior environment ministry official said, "But the decision will have to be taken by the tribal affairs ministry."