New Delhi: The commerce and industry ministry has criticized delays in the grant of forest clearance to industrial projects and proposed easy clearances for companies in specified manufacturing zones.

Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh, however, had said on Wednesday that authorizations for industrial projects do not take longer than stipulated.

Policy watch: Commerce minister Anand Sharma says it is necessary to come up with a manufacturing policy. Kamal Singh/PTI

NMIZs will be areas demarcated to set up manufacturing facilities, along with associated services and infrastructure. They will house one or more special economic zones, industrial parks and warehousing zones, export-oriented units, along with domestic tariff area units.

The paper complained that forest clearances take three to five years, with identification of land for compensatory afforestation being the main bottleneck. It proposed states should notify in advance forest areas that cannot be demarcated for industrial development, as well as prepare a list of compensatory afforestation areas.

It also said clearances shouldn’t take longer than a year. “In case the process is not completed in time, it should be treated as deemed granted," it said.

The paper proposed that NMIZs should be allowed to certify themselves, with the caveat that if the information furnished by them is found to be wrong, the government can withdraw the clearance and the project will have to bear the consequences.

The proposal also asked states to ensure that pollution control boards issued timely clearances to NMIZs. “In case of polluting industries, a maximum (time) limit can be specified for clearances," it said. For non-polluting industries, the commerce ministry wants automatic clearances.

Jairam Ramesh, while taking over as environment minister, had said he won’t allow any more in-principle clearances.

On Thursday, he declined to respond to questions about the commerce ministry’s proposal, saying it had only issued a discussion paper.

On Wednesday, however, Ramesh had said forest clearances are issued within the stipulated time and criticism over delays was baseless.

The law, too, does not provide for automatic clearances, said Sanjay Upadhyay, a Supreme Court lawyer who specializes in environment and livelihood issues. “Forest land is a legal category irrespective of trees on it. It’s a concept of land. By that logic (of not needing clearance to clear bushes), all grasslands and all pasture lands would not require any clearance," Upadhyay said. “The Supreme Court has also clarified and there is no ambiguity. Any such move will be violation of law."

Commerce minister Anand Sharma also declined to discuss the details of the discussion paper, but said on Thursday that it was necessary to come up with a manufacturing policy. DIPP secretary R.P. Singh said finalizing the policy may take a year or two.