The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has almost become a clearing house for projects in once no zones for industrial activity - tiger and elephant corridors and dense forest areas.
As the environment ministry has failed to identify forests where industrial and mining activities would not be allowed, the FAC is having a field day in giving approvals to the projects in the last few months since the committee has been constituted. The term of three independent members expired last year after which the ministry, in the later part of 2013 replaced them with new ones.
Since then, the FAC approval rate has crossed over 98% as compared to around 95% in 2011. “The problem with FAC is that it has stopped saying no to any project,” an ecologist associated with the committee earlier said.
More than that, the FAC had made extra effort to ensure that the projects are cleared. A case in point is of clearing mining projects in a tiger corridor in southern Madhya Pradesh which were rejected by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The FAC constituted its own committee and overruled the NTCA concerns and gave approval to 12 coal mining proposals. The approval to these coal blocks were pending for close to two years.
The FAC employed a strange logic to allow mining in elephant corridors in Jharkhand and Orissa. It said that the green area was not notified as being used by the tuskers to move from one region to another. This was despite sufficient evidence of elephants invading nearby villages because they were unable to use the corridor for mining purposes. The committee over-looked the ecological foot-prints and agreed with the state governments pushing for mining.
If that was not enough the FAC has started a new concept of opening scrapped projects and then allowing them by putting weak conditions.
In the last meeting, the committee allowed at least four projects which were rejected by the earlier FACs. The FAC allowed Kalu river drinking water project with futuristic cumulative impact assessment and failed to explain why it was overturning the earlier rejection.
In case of a hydel project in tribal district of Lahaul in Himachal, the FAC adopted a similar wishy-washy and over-looked the fact that 11 hydel projects have already been cleared on river stretch. The committee clearly went by the views projects by the state government over-looking the adverse impact of the project on local wildlife.
The committee did not raise any objections for exploratory drilling in dense forest area of Hasdeo-Arand in Chhattisgarh, once declared a no-go area for mining, and asked the environment ministry to decide on basis of recommendations of a Group of Ministers (GoM). The FAC being a statutory body constituted under the - which are less than 30% of green cover of India - or not.