shifting its earlier stand, the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef ) has decided to write off heavy dues from the Indian Army for using forestland for training. The decision to waive the Rs 14,414 crore came in May 2007 after the defence ministry informed moef of its inability to clear the cost.
The army has been using 92 field-firing ranges spread over about 1.6 million hectares of notified forests. Earlier, a moef notification had insisted that states take a 10 per cent 'compensatory afforestation' charge from the army. The Union ministry of defence (mod) had said that the dues would affect the army's modernisation programmes and other training activities. Moreover, it has been using only 32 forest areas because access to the rest has been restricted under various laws."Army neither diverts forestland nor converts it while training," says Wasim A Qadri, mod counsel. "Our trainings do not harm forests. We do not fell trees. The training is vital for national security and should be exempted from the charges," mod told the Supreme Court.
But experts accuse the army of social and environmental damage. "The practice has caused much livelihood losses to local communities. It is a threat to their life and people are even forced to vacate the area," says an environmentalist.
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