Forest clearance process made comprehensive

Draft policy details inspection, verification, monitoring and procedure of granting forest clearance

 
By Sugandh Juneja
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has made public a draft policy on inspection, verification, monitoring and procedure of granting forest clearance. The policy, now up on the MoEF website, is open for comments from stakeholders till July 15.

The policy is a result of the Supreme Court judgement dated July 6, 2011 in the Lafarge Umiam mining case. The Court ordered MoEF to prepare a comprehensive policy for inspection, verification and monitoring of the procedure of forest clearance in consultation with states. MoEF formed a committee to formulate this policy under the chairpersonship of the additional director general of forests.

Inspection

The policy has stressed the need to classify inspection based on its objective—site inspection mandatory for diversion of forestland procedure; site inspection in case of dispute over status of land; and site inspection ordered by MoEF suo moto or on advice of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). The first category will follow the procedure as laid down in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, under which the district forest officer, chief conservator of forests, and the state or regional office of MoEF carries out site inspections which form the basis of granting forest clearance by FAC or the state.

In case of a dispute, an inspection will be carried out by a specially appointed site inspection committee (SIC) by MoEF at each of the regional offices. These SICs are to have at least one representative each from the respective states and regional office of MoEF, together with one non-official member with expertise in forestry. In case a site inspection is ordered by MoEF suo moto or on advice of FAC, the order can only be given by an Inspector General of Forest rank official or above. These inspections will need specific orders from the forest ministry, clearly defining their composition, mandate and terms of reference. The ministry may also order the concerned SIC to carry out this kind of inspection.

Verification

For verification, the policy recommends a GIS-based database to be made available to all departments both at the Centre and in the states. This was also part of the Supreme Court judgement. The policy further states that the states and Centre will compare and cross-check information provided in the proposal with this GIS database and certify that the information matches. In case of deviations, detailed reasons will need to be recorded.

Monitoring

The committee states that in their view “monitoring is the weakest link in the entire forest clearance process”. Different kinds of monitoring systems have been introduced in the policy. To start with, the policy states that self-monitoring of all compliance conditions in the FC by the user agency will need to be done periodically. In case more than 100 ha of forestland is diverted, then this review will need to be done by the executive head of the user agency at least once a year and will need to be reported in their annual report. It has been suggested that this self-monitoring report be put on the user agency website and also be submitted to the state and regional offices of MoEF.

In case of non-compliance, the self-monitoring report is also to mention actions taken or proposed. The states are supposed to submit to MoEF a yearly compilation of all the user agencies who do not submit the self-monitoring report. MoEF will then initiate appropriate action on the same.

The second level of monitoring is by the state government. Here, the categorisation of frequency of monitoring has been done based on the kind of project. The monitoring is to be done by the deputy conservator of forest (DCF), conservator of forest (CF) and nodal officer  to whom FC proposal is submitted (see Table). For instance, a mining project will need to be monitored by the deputy conservator once a year, only once every two years by the conservator of forest and once every three years by the nodal officer.

 

Category of Project DCF monitoring frequency CF monitoring frequency Nodal officer monitoring frequency Centre monitoring frequency
Mining Once a year Once in two years Once in three years Major minerals/minor minerals (> 40 ha): Once a year Minor minerals (< 40 ha): Once in five years
Hydel/irrigation/river valley/construction and widening of roads/highways/railways/pipelines/wind power/thermal power/industrial projects, etc. – During construction* Once a year Once in two years Once in two years Once a year
Hydel/irrigation/river valley/wind power/thermal power/industrial projects, etc. – After construction Once in two years Once in three years Once in three years Once in two years
Construction and widening of roads/highways/transmission lines/railways, etc.  – After construction Once in three years Once in four years Once in four years Once in three years
Other projects – During execution# Once a year Once in two years Once in two years Once a year
Other projects – After execution Once in five years Once in five years Once in five years Once in five years
*Subject to a minimum of one inspection during the construction period by all the 3 authorities #Subject to a minimum of one inspection during the execution period by all the 3 authorities

 

If any non-compliance is noticed during inspection, the inspecting authority needs to first inform the user agency and direct it to take immediate necessary steps to ensure compliance within a stipulated time period. These directions will be endorsed by MoEF or regional office as the case may be. If the monitoring authority feels the non-compliance is grave or the user agency does not comply with the directions given, then it should prepare a report and submit the same to Central government within seven days. Based on the report, the Centre may consider keeping the FC in abeyance. This decision will need to be taken within 30 days from the receipt of the report of the monitoring authority.

The Centre will monitor the status of compliance in three ways – through its regional offices, independent remote sensing satellite based real-time monitoring system, and through a panel of accredited institutions and individual experts. Here again, the frequency of monitoring is defined according to the kind of project. In case of non-compliance, authority will inform the state government and direct it to take action to ensure compliance, with the rest of the procedure remaining same as that under state monitoring. The nodal officers and the regional offices are to submit a quarterly report to the MoEF on monitoring undertaken by them.

MoEF is to prepare a panel of accredited institutions or experts in a transparent manner who will monitor these conditions. The report will have to be submitted within seven days of the visit. Central government is also to establish a remote sensing satellite based monitoring system to detect encroachment, changes in land use (unauthorised) and illegal mining in forestland.

But will this new system be effective? "The conditions put in forest clearance are very subjective; we need very different tools and techniques to monitor these,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment. The presently proposed techniques are more appropriate for monitoring environmental pollution and will not be able to do the needful as far as FC goes," he adds.

 

 

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