To boost infrastructure development, the environment ministry has finally delinked its two clearances - environment and forest - for linear projects. On Wednesday, it changed the rule in this regard.
The change meant that no more mandatory forest clearance will be required to start work on linear projects in non-forest areas. Having environment clearance would be more than enough.
In March 2011, the ministry had debarred project proponents from starting work on non-forest land in cases where forests was required for executing the project till the mandatory approval for diverting of forest land was received.
The ministry's 2011 circular stated that the project proponents will have to first receive forest clearance to make the environment approval operational. Both environment and forest clearances are granted by the ministry.
This was done to prevent project proponents claiming automatic forest clearance on the ground of investing money after receiving environment clearance. The practice had turned the forest clearance process into a bogus exercise with companies applying fait accompli for seeking forest approval.
However, the ministry's circular created problems in executing projects, especially of road and power sector, rather than providing a solution. As a result, the ministry was at the receiving end with stakeholders seeking a revision in the circular.
The ministry was unable to modify its circular as it had been validated by the Supreme Court in Lafarge judgment to prevent 'fait accompli'. The ministry earlier this year filed an application with the apex court seeking clarification on whether the judgment would apply to linear projects such as roads, transmission lines and pipelines or not.
The court on March 12 allowed the ministry to exempt linear projects from the 2011 circular.
On Wednesday, the ministry allowed project proponents to execute a project up to boundary of the forestland and provide an alternative alignment if the forest approval is not received.
"If diversion of forestland is declined, it would be technically feasible to execute the project along an alternative alignment without forestland," the ministry's new rule said. The ministry also said that commencement of work on non-forest land will not confer any right on the user agency with regard to grant of forest approval.