New Delhi: The union environment ministry on Tuesday announced that it has decided to review the status of pending forest clearances and expedite the process.
The decision was taken after a meeting by A.N. Jha, secretary of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCc), last week.
“Special secretary, MoEFCC, R.R. Rashmi will hold a meeting, in which all officers concerned from the ministry, nodal officer, regional officer and project proponents will be invited. The meeting will review the cases where the projects have been apprised by the expert appraisal committees and recommended the grant of environmental clearance, but are being held up because of Forest Clearance – Stage I,” said an official statement.
Forest land is diverted by environment ministry for non-forest use like mining and other industrial projects under provisions of the Forest Conservation Act 1980.
The environment ministry also decided that all EACs will hold at least two meetings in April and May for the appraisal of projects, with special emphasis on projects pertaining to different ministries.
There are several sector-specific EACs in the environment ministry which appraise a project for environment clearance. For instance, there are separate EACs for hydroelectric projects, thermal projects, mining projects or nuclear projects.
They then recommend clearance to them or reject them after which a final decision is taken by the ministry.
However, a senior official of the MoEFCC, who wished anonymity said, the move is a result of push from the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) under the prime minister’s office (PMO). PMG had expressed concern at the pending projects.
“Another major reason is the complaints from other ministries that even government projects are being delayed for one reason or another. This has apparently led to the meeting and decision of expediting cases,” the official added.
Environmentalists are unhappy.
“Environment ministry is supposed to be the protector of natural India but it seems it has totally forgotten its role. Which other ministry in government of India focuses on environment? If no one else talks about environment then why is environment ministry letting go of its mandate. Environment ministry’s job is to protect environment of country,” said Manoj Misra, convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a non-governmental organization working for the rejuvenation of the river Yamuna.
“Sooner the environment ministry rediscovers its own mandate, it is going to be interest of country. All these talks (about easing processes and expediting projects) only indicate how ineffective or how weak this ministry has become,” Misra added.