The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has agreed to divert additional 25% forest land that was earlier categorised as no-go area for setting up projects concerning infrastructure ministries such as power, road and coal. This is after the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) stepped in and pushed the ministry to fast-track project clearances.
Government sources said the move has come as a huge relief for the industry, as around 30-50 projects will now be taken up for consideration. It will also provide access to some of India's best sites for natural resources deep inside forests in tribal areas. "We are working on the finer print," an official said.
Moreover, the ministry has said environment clearance for projects will come in 60 days and forest clearance in 180 days after all the documents are submitted. The environment ministry has also listed priority projects for consideration of its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which is mandated to examine each project with respect to its environmental impact.
The agreement was reached at the two meetings called by the Prime Minister's principal secretary Pulak Chatterjee on business projects over the last fortnight after a group of chief executive officers led by industrialist Ratan Tata met the PM and other central ministers.
The coal and power ministries had complained to the PMO that the environment ministry takes up to six years to clear projects, thereby leading to a shortage in coal supply and power generation. "Priority projects will be cleared within the deadline," an official said.
While the officials of coal and power ministries are happy with the development, non-government organisations (NGOs) are worried about its adverse impact on forests and the environment.
Over 100 NGOs from across the country will meet in Delhi this weekend to discuss ways to protect India's dwindling forest cover and degrading natural resources. The Centre for Science and Environment has analysed recent environmental clearances and found that the country saw more clearances than those planned for during the 11th and 12th five-year plans.