The ministry of environment and forests is on an industrial overdrive with rules being changed to speed-up clearance of projects at the cost of environment.
The standing committee of National Board for Wildlife will loose its power to examine projects in tiger and elephant corridors, instead, there would be sectoral forest advisory committee to decide on diversion of forest land and projects even in dense forests will be allowed.
These are some of the changes the ministry has brought in to dispel its image of being a roadblock to industrial development and to ensure easier approvals to the industry.
The ministry has silently excluded projects coming up in tiger and elephants corridors from the purview of the standing committee, which has not meet for almost six months apparently because the non-official members refuse to adhere to the government line.
"The views of National Tiger Conservation Authority and Project Elephant are taken before deciding on projects in these areas," said a ministry official, explaining that the standing committee causes a lot of delay in deciding in these projects. Incidentally, a large number of projects in India are in or around tiger and elephant corridors.
This is not the only step.
The ministry is likely to agree to a suggestion of a Group of Ministers headed by Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to set up several forest advisory committee (FAC) to speed up project approval rate. The GoM had wanted the FAC to work on the lines of about 10 sectoral level Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC).
The move is, however, being opposed by non-official members of FAC which believe that it will dilute the mandate of single FAC, constituted under the Forest Conservation Act, to ensure protection of forests. The law provides for one advisory body whose recommendations are not must for the government to follow.
On Wednesday, the environment ministry will brief the GoM about the key changes.
In light of these fast moving changes, the ministry is expected to inform the GoM that it will approve two key mining projects in dense forests - Chhatrasal and Mahan - with strict environmental conditions. Civil society bodies had opposed these projects saying they will destroy rich biodiversity of the area.
The ministry is also expected to inform the GoM regarding its proposal to inviolate areas from mining in dense forests. A survey has been done by Forest Survey of India in this regard but the actual demarcation of forest areas, where no mining will be allowed, has not been done.