MoEF plans to add more teeth to forest clearance system

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 26 2013, 09:40am hrs
Recognising monitoring as the weakest link in the forest clearance (FC) process, the environment ministry is planning to increase the frequency of monitoring of projects. To make the process more transparent, the ministry would also rope in its regional offices, experts and an independent remote sensing satellite-based real-time monitoring system.

As per the proposed system, the regional office of the ministry would monitor mineral mines involving more than 40 hectare of forest land once a year and once in five years for mines with less than 40 hectare of forest. Similarly, hydel, irrigation, thermal and industrial projects, while being constructed, will be monitored once a year.

It is for the first time that such kind of monitoring is being proposed in line with the Supreme Court order on Lafarge. It was only in mining projects that regular inspection was happening, said a senior official of the forest department.

In 2011, the Supreme Court asked the MoEF to prepare a comprehensive policy for inspection, verification and monitoring and the overall procedure relating to the grant of forest clearances.

At present, the conditions stipulated while giving approval under the Forest Conservation Act for diversion of of forest land for mining purposes shall be reviewed /monitored every five years. If it is found that the project proponent has violated or is not complying with the stipulated conditions, then the approval is revoked.

Moreover, the forest conservation division in the MoEF has recently started to stipulate a condition in the stage-II or final approval that the user agency shall submit a self monitoring report to the state. Such condition is however, not stipulated by the regional offices in the approvals accorded by them.

An MoEF committee has suggested using real-time satellite imagery for this purpose. The committee's most far-reaching suggestions are in the area of monitoring. The proposed system requires that project developers using more than 100 hectares of forest land to prepare status reports of compliance of clearance conditions, which will have to be reviewed by the company's executive head and published both in the company's annual report and its website.

The MoEF will develop a systematic random sampling method to select in an unbiased manner the representative project to be monitored during a month and communicate the same to the accredited institutions/ individual experts.