The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has released a draft policy on inspection, verification, monitoring and overall procedure relating to the grant of forest clearances.
The draft policy envisages establishment of an independent, remote-sensing, satellite-based monitoring system to detect encroachment and unauthorised changes in the approved land use plan, illegal mining on forest land after expiry of the approver under the Forest (Conservation) Act and the progress of concurrent/final reclamation/rehabilitation of mined-out area in mining project. Besides, it will detect damage to flora and fauna in the adjoining forests and maintenance of minimum ecological flow in hydel/irrigation and river valley projects.
Besides, the draft policy, which has been prepared based on the recommendations by a committee headed by the additional director general of forests, suggests self-monitoring by the user agency and in case of non- compliance, keeping the approval accorded under the Forest (Conservation) Act in abeyance within 30 days of the receipt of report by the competent authority.
In respect of proposal involving diversion of forests land above 100 hectare, site inspection be carried out by the MoEF's regional offices. However, the state and union territory governments are required to continue to send a copy of proposals involving diversion of forest land above 40 hectare to the concerned regional office. According to the draft policy, site inspection will be a mandatory exercise for submission and processing of proposals for diversion of forest lands.
Emphasising the need for an institutional mechanism for grant of forest clearance, the draft policy says this is to ensure expeditious implementation of measures stipulated in the approval accorded under Forest Conservation Act to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land on flora, fauna and environment. The annual rate of diversion of forest land for non forest purpose has been reduced to 35,554 hectare per annum from 1.65 lakh hectare per annum . After the enactment of Forest Conservation Act, the government approved diversion of 11,55,504 hectare of forest land for non forest purpose with adequate mitigative measures.
This Report is another theoretical exercise in futility. Every officer who has helped draft this report should know that this report will not help protect the forest cover of India in any substantial manner.There is no element of public participation in any of the items dealt with in the Report. Even a basic recommendation to the effect that if the Forest Conservation Act clearance conditions are not being complied with, the clearance should be immediately suspended," notes Debi Goenka,Executive Trustee, Conservation Action Trust
Goenka doubts over whether the implementation of draft policy in totality will prevent a recurrence of Bellary or Goa mining situation. He suggests that local people and NGOs should be empowered to verify these clearance conditions.