New Delhi: The environment ministry has granted general approval for using forest land up to one hectare for building community toilets under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission).
The ministry considered the issue of lack of land for building toilets in response to a proposal by the Maharashtra state government; however, the decision will apply to all the states.
“I am directed to convey the general approval of central government under section 2 of Forest Conservation Act 1980 for construction of government approved community toilets on land involving partially or fully the forest lands (Government, private and deemed and others forests) not exceeding 1 ha of forest land," senior assistant inspector general of forests Rajagopal Prashant wrote in a letter sent to all state governments on 8 November.
The general approval means government agencies building community toilets will not have to wait to get permission for diverting forest land and would be subject to approvals only from gram panchayats (village councils) in rural areas and local bodies in urban areas to utilize forest land.
The ministry clarified that the general approval would be subject to a no-objection certificate under the Forest Rights Act 2006 and will not extend to forest land in national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other protected areas.
Under its flagship Clean India Mission, the Narendra Modi government aims to make India open defecation free by 2019; construction of toilets is an important component of that plan.
The environment ministry has stipulated that the general approval will be subject to fulfilment of certain conditions: the construction should not involve felling of more than 50 trees per hectare and the user agency shall plant and maintain two times the number of trees felled.
“Planting site for the purpose will be identified by the State forest department (preferably within or in the surrounding area of the project). Only indigenous forest tree species shall be used for such plantations," the environment ministry said in its order.
“Trees, if planted on the diverted area, will not be felled without the permission of the State forest department," the ministry said.
State forest departments may impose any other conditions for conservation, protection and development of forests from time to time, the environment ministry said in its order.
The legal status of land shall remain unchanged (it shall remain the kind of forest it was before diversion) and authorities shall be responsible for any loss to the flora and fauna in the surroundings and take all possible measures to conserve them, it added.
The ministry also specified that the forest land shall not be used for any other purpose and any change in the land use without prior permission shall amount to a violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980.