The UPA government's economic reforms agenda has got a friendly pat from the environment ministry. Its forest advisory committee (FAC) would allow diversion of about 15,000 hectares of forestland in the first three months of this year, a little less than the forestland diverted in 2012.
The diverted areas include forestland in rich elephant zone of Saranda in Jharkhand and Pench tiger corridor in south Madhya Pradesh. They have always been no-entry zones for industrial projects but the FAC overruled expert bodies' observations to allow diversions.
The FAC constituted its own committee to reject the recommendations of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which had not allowed coal mining in fragile tiger corridor of Pench. Similarly, the FAC has allowed mining in elephant homes, citing the forestland was not notified as an elephant reserve.
The current FAC is headed by AK Shrivastava, who has additional charge of director-general of forests. The ministry has failed to appoint new director-general since former director-general PJ Dalip Kumar retired in November.
As a temporary arrangement, the committee is mandated to allow diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes under the Forest Conservation Act and has gone on a project approval spree. An analysis of the FAC approvals by EIA resource and response center shows that around 15,000 hectares of forestland would be diverted when the committee meets again in the first week of April. "In its last two meetings in January and February, the panel allowed to fell over a million trees," Pushp Jain, director of the center, said.
The Centre for Science and Environment report on forest clearance shows that around 19,000 hectares of forestland was diverted in 2012. This is about 2,000 hectares less than the forestland diverted in 2011.