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Railways need not to seek permission to develop infra on its forest land

Officials say that the process of environmental clearances from state forest departments and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is a long and tedious one

Indian Railways deemed to cancel up to 170 trains on August 11.

Indian Railways

Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has clarified that the railways does not need to seek permission to develop infrastructure on its land in forest areas, after its contradictory orders on the issue created confusion in many states.
Quoting an order dated March 10 last year, the ministry has stated that the Forest (Conservation) Act will not be applicable on railway owned land for execution or maintaining of railway works.
This paves the way for the national transporter to execute infrastructure projects even in sensitive forest areas without seeking permission from the Centre.
"It has been brought to the notice of the ministry that in some states/UTs there is ambiguity regarding interpretation of the term "RoW", mentioned in the guidelines dated 10.03.2022. Several states have asked the railway to explain the term "RoW".
"The matter was examined in the ministry and it is clarified that RoW mentioned in the guidelines...may be understood as the area falling within the limits of railway owned land for execution or maintaining of railway works," the ministry has said in a letter to the additional chief secretaries and principal secretaries of forests of all states and Union territories on February 22.
The confusion of the state governments is understandable with "contrarian orders" being issued by the ministry since 2016 on the issue, it stated.
In November 2016, the ministry said that if conversion of metre gauge to broad gauge lines is allowed within forest land in the right of way (RoW) of the railway line, which is already under non-forest use before October 25, 1980, then the Forest Conservation Act may not be applicable.
However, if additional land beyond the existing alignment of metre gauge railway track is required for any non-forestry activities, then FCA clearance would be required.
However, a year later in December 2017, it said that even "forest land" owned by the railways is "forest" and cannot be used for anything else without the consent of the central government.
It also said that states too cannot assign and allot forest land, without prior approval of the ministry.
In May 2019, another completely contradictory order was passed which, noting the objections of state government in taking approval and the railways' difficulties in completing key track works, allowed non-forest use of forest land by the national transporter and waived off the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act.
However, a fresh circular on March 10, 2022 stated that even the Wildlife (Protection) Act will not be applicable on the railways in ROW. The ministry said the decision has been taken after consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice and will apply on the railways only.
The ministry in its February 22, 2023 letter clarified to the states that the order issues in March last year has given the railways the right to develop projects in forest land and they need not obtain permission from the central government under Section 2 of the FCA.
It gave the railways the right to develop such land.
Officials say that the process of environmental clearances from state forest departments and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is a long and tedious one.
For example, in 2019, data showed as many as 25 developmental projects in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have been delayed due to this.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Feb 27 2023 | 8:20 PM IST

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