The government is set to relax the green norms further by delinking the two clearances given by environment ministry --- environment and forest --- and ease rules for exploratory drilling in forest areas.
The ministry in the last two months has slowly dismantled the environment protection regime considered a stumbling block for quick approval to big infrastructure projects on directions of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Now, the ministry would even de-link the two clearances as being demanded by key infrastructure ministries --- coal and power. As of now, the project proponent cannot start work until it has got both the approvals, resulting in long delays in project execution.
The ministry is set to de-link the two in cases where requirement of forest is less than half of the total land required for the project. The exact proportion of forestland for which the exemption would apply is yet to be decided by the ministry.
The exemption is based on the principle that the project proponents would be required to provide an alternative plan in cases they fail to get forest approval. “It is to prevent application of fait accompli principle,” a senior government official explained on Wednesday.
The change in rule would, however, not apply to projects which are coming fully on forest land.
It would mean that the companies would be able to start work in non-forest areas without forest approval.
Another forest rule relaxation in the offing is regarding the procedure for exploratory mining in forest areas. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) --- body to consider proposals for forest approval -- has asked the ministry to simply the norms for such mining in consultation with ministries of coal and mines.
The two ministries had sought exemption from forest clearance for drilling of 15-20 bore-wells for prospecting of minerals in forest areas but the FAC said such an exemption would be in violation of the Forest Conservation Act.
The FAC found that drilling activities had impact on movement of elephants in Bajtarni coal block in Orissa and on flora and fauna in Bijul coal block in Madhya Pradesh. The assessment was based on drilling of 940 bore wells in coal blocks in three states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Although the environment secretary V Rajagopalan described the relaxation as “streamlining” of environmental procedures the environmental activists termed it as booty to highly polluting mining industry at cost of environment protection. They also claimed that the ministry has failed to strengthen the mechanism to monitor whether the approvals comply with environmental norms or not.