New Delhi: The Union environment ministry has asked states to form “land banks" for afforestation for speedy forest clearances for industrial projects.It also suggested several measures for comprehensive compensatory afforestation.
Under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, forest land can be diverted for non-forestry purposes like dams, mining and other industrial projects. In lieu of the forest land diverted, compensatory afforestation (CA) is carried out on non-forest land.
The identification of degraded forest land and non-forest land for compensatory afforestation is being dealt with by the environment ministry under guidelines that it issued in 2003. But in light of several practical problems, the ministry has now amended them.
In a letter sent to the governments of all states and Union territories (UTs) on Wednesday, which was reviewed by Mint, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) said it has found that “in many cases a substantial portion of the land identified for compensatory afforestation already contains vegetation of varying density".
Thus, according to MoEFCC, compensatory afforestation on such land “will not fully compensate the loss of trees, as there will not be enough space for the requisite number of plants to be planted" but “outright rejection of such non-forest land for compensatory afforestation is not desirable".
In the amended guidelines communicated to states, the ministry stipulates that for CA “the number of plants to be planted over CA land shall be at least 1,000 plants per hectare of forest land diverted".
It, however, clarified that in case 1,000 plants cannot be planted on the non-forest land identified for CA, then the balance will be planted in degraded forest land.
“State governments will formulate CA scheme including activities like soil and moisture conservation, regeneration cleaning, silvicultural activities and shall ensure maintenance of these plantations for a period of seven to 10 years as per requirement," the guidelines added.
MoEFCC also said that “states and UTs shall create land bank for CA for speedy disposal of the forest clearance proposals under FC Act 1980."
For expediting creation of land banks in a systematic manner, the guidelines said every state should set up a committee with principal chief conservator of forests, chief wildlife warden and representatives of revenue department.
The committees would identify areas like those falling in wildlife corridors, in and around protected areas, habitats of rare, threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna (not under control of state forest departments) and areas in catchment areas of important rivers, water supply schemes, irrigation projects and hydroelectric projects for inclusion in land banks.