New Delhi: Under fire for its new national draft forest policy which allegedly weakens the forest regulations, the union environment ministry on Saturday backtracked stating that the said draft policy was only a “study".

However, according to an office order (dated 16 June) of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), a copy of which is reviewed by Mint, the document was called ‘draft National Forest policy 2016’ only.

“The ministry is in the process of revising the National Forest Policy 1988. A draft National Forest Policy in this regard has been prepared and is enclosed. All stakeholders are requested to send their comments by 30 June," said an office memorandum by MoEFCC’s deputy inspector general of forests (Forest Policy) A.K. Mohanty.

Mint last week reported that the draft national forest policy is suggesting a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry woes.

The policy also proposes using funds obtained from diversion of forest lands for industrial projects to acquire critical non-forest lands for establishing safe wildlife corridors.

A report by Business Standard highlights that the draft policy promises to hand back management control to forest bureaucracy over forest rights that the Forest Rights Act 2006 gave to tribals.

But the environment ministry led by Prakash Javadekar on Saturday took a complete U-turn.

“The Ministry has not issued any draft notification on National Forest Policy. What has been uploaded on the website was a study done by Indian Institute of Forest Management Bhopal. The study has not been evaluated by the ministry. The ministry has not taken any decision on draft forest policy. The study report prepared by IIFM Bhopal was inadvertently uploaded as draft forest policy on the website," said SS Negi, who is MoEFCC’s director general forest and special secretary, in an official statement

Negi said as DG Forest he wants to clarify that this document (uploaded on website) is not the draft forest policy.

“The ministry has an elaborate procedure for preparing draft policy document, which takes into account multiple inputs from all stakeholders, state governments, think tanks and public consultation. No process has been carried out on the document prepared by IIFM Bhopal, which is only one of the inputs. A draft forest policy will be put in public domain once due process is carried out and views of all stakeholders taken into account," Negi added.

Civil society has been critical of the draft policy.

“The draft forest policy proposes dilution of the FRA Act and also allows industry to have commercial plantations on the forest land which may harm interests of farmers in the country. The draft also proposes to do away with requirement of having 2/3rd geographical area of mountainous and hill regions under forests," said Ajay Kumar Saxena, programme manager (forestry) at the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi based NGO working on environmental issues.

A senior official of the environment ministry, who did not wish to be identified, said “u-turn came after intense criticism of the draft policy from civil society".

“Not only civil society, even the union tribal affairs ministry is not happy with the proposed dilution of forest right laws in the draft forest policy," the MoEFCC official said.

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