Green ministry confirms faster forest clearances for state agenciesUpdated: Jul 10, 2020 21:27 IST
The Union environment ministry has confirmed that it will be easier for state bodies working on national highway projects to garner faster forest clearances.
The ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) responded to the Maharashtra forest department’s query, which was received by them on Thursday, said, forest officials.
“Contents of the MoRTH letter have been confirmed and ratified by the environment ministry, making this a norm. Those state agencies executing national highway projects on behalf of road transport projects are exempted from the mandate under FC Act,” said Sanjeev Gaur, additional principal chief conservator of forest and nodal officer, Maharashtra forest department.
HT reported on Wednesday that the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) had expressed its intention to make it easier for state bodies to garner faster forest clearances on national highway projects. On June 30, MoRTH issued a letter to all state governments informing them agencies like the state public works department working on national highway development projects be exempted from purchasing non-forest land in lieu of forest area being diverted. This is mandatory for state agencies as per the Forest Conservation (FC) Act, 1980. Instead, MoRTH said agencies, working on the Centre’s highway projects, be allowed to carry out compensatory afforestation (CA) on degraded forest land, which applies to certain small projects. MoRTH said the decision was taken in consultation with the Union environment ministry. However, the Maharashtra forest department had asked MoEFCC to clarify and issue formal instructions last week.
According to MoEFCC’s annual report 2019-20, released on June 8, 11,467 hectares (ha) of forest land was diverted for non-forest projects between January 1 and November 6, 2019, in India under the FC Act. Of this, 227 were road projects that accounted for the diversion of 1,488 ha.
MoEFCC in its letter, which HT reviewed, shared the minutes of the meeting conducted on June 24 including MoEFCC, MoRTH and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Since Central bodies like MoRTH and NHAI are already exempted from the rule (purchasing non-forest area for loss of forest cover), state bodies should use the name ‘MoRTH’ as ‘user agency’ while applying for clearances on MoEFCC’s Parivesh portal - a web-based application for monitoring and submission of project proposals. “As the user agency is MoRTH, the dispensation of CA over double the degraded forest land, instead of equivalent non-forest land will be available in such cases,” MoEFCC’s decision said.
“This will only help expedite the approval process for forest land diversion and avoid unnecessary delay in identification for transfer of non-forest land for state agencies, which used to stall on-ground work by months before this decision,” said Sanjeev Kumar, chief engineer, MoRTH.