New Delhi: An expert forest panel of the Union environment ministry has rejected clearance for an ambitious ecotourism project near Hyderabad in Telangana, citing the Forest Conservation (FC) Act 1980.

The Telangana government’s project sought diversion of 1,859 hectares of forest area on the outskirts of Hyderabad for developing an integrated ecotourism project that includes an amphitheatre, nature interpretation centre, flower dome, lake-based activities, adventure facilities such as biking trails and bird watching, luxury tents, art and craft villages etc.

The forest advisory committee (FAC) ruled against it, citing lack of provision in the Forest Conservation (FC) Act 1980. The rules and guidelines prohibit diversion of forest land for recreational and tourism projects.

As per the FC Act 1980, forest land cannot be diverted for non-site specific projects. It only allows site specific projects such as power, mining, hydroelectric power, road and railway, transmission lines and gas pipelines.

“The FAC after detailed deliberations concluded that the project in its present form cannot be recommended," said the minutes of FAC’s meeting on 12 July reviewed by Mint.

FAC is an expert body that recommends or rejects a project after which a final decision is taken by the Union environment ministry, but in majority of the cases it usually agrees with the panel.

The project, whose estimated cost is around 1,010 crore, also involves construction of a spiritual hub named “OM city", which consists of a cluster of temples. The OM city also consists of residential units, VIP enclave, stadium for spiritual events, hotels, wedding halls, hospital, multiplex, auditoriums, theme park, Sanskar Bhawan and other facilities.

The Telangana government justified seeking a large tract of forest land because of exorbitant price of non-government land brought about rapid industrialization.

The government also told the forest panel that the project did not involve any displacement of people, would lead to socio-cultural development and could create nearly 12.8 lakh jobs over five years.

However, the environment ministry’s regional office in Chennai said that out of 1,859 hectares of forest area sought for diversion only 98 hectares were needed. Another 1,761 hectares could be treated separately in consultation with the state’s forest department.

The report said that if Telangana restricted itself for diversion of forest area up to 98 hectares it would minimize the overall project cost.

“Therefore, it is advisable if the user agency can redesign the project proposal on those lines and resubmit the same, then the ministry may re-examine the whole issue once again," the site inspection report said.

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