Maharashtra allows field officers to sanction temporary forest use
Divisional officers in Maharashtra can now sanction temporary forest land use for up to two weeks for “public purposes” or projects of an “emergent nature”, according to a circular issued on March 25, a copy of which HT has accessed.
The move is in line with instructions issued by the Union environment ministry in October 2019 and January 2020. A proposal was earlier tabled by the additional principal chief conservator of forests (Maharashtra) in April 2019 seeking “authorisation to concerned Chief Conservator of Forests (T) for granting permission for execution of temporary work in Forest Land.”
The Centre subsequently issued instructions saying “temporary work in forest land which does not involve part of any protected area, breaking up or clearing of forest land or portion thereof, or assigning by way of lease or otherwise to the firm, person or organization using such forest land temporarily; and does not create any right on such forest land of such firm, person or organization, will not require prior approval” from the central government. It allowed state and Union Territories to empower divisional officers to accord permission for such temporary activities.
Maharashtra has accordingly devolved sanctioning powers to territorial deputy conservators of forests, divisional forest officers, and independent sub-divisional forest officers.
The circular delegating these powers emphasises that “under no circumstances, the permission for the use of land in the National Parks, Sanctuaries, Tiger Reserves, Conservation Reserves, Community Reserves and Protected areas shall be granted under these guidelines.” User agencies seeking temporary use of forest land will also have to pay a minimum of ₹10,000 per hectare of land daily as forest restoration costs.
The move comes two weeks after a circular allowed field officers to sanction the upgradation of roads constructed in forests prior to the commencement of the Forest Conservation Act instead of seeking the state government’s clearance as was the case earlier.
Sanjay Gaur, the additional principal chief conservator of forests (protection), said these steps are part of efforts to streamline administrative clearances and also save the time of senior officials busy with policy level decisions. “Sanctioning temporary work in a certain forest area, or upgradation of roads, are routine matters and can be cleared at the discretion of field officers. But we also have strict conditions in place to ensure that these sanctions are granted only where absolutely needed.”