the Supreme Court of India recently included the director-general of forests as a new member in its Central Empowered Committee (cec). The committee was constituted in 2002 to monitor cases related to forests and their diversion for non-forest use. The director-general of forests heads the Forest Advisory Committee (fac), a body under the Union environment ministry that grants clearances for diversion of forestland.
The move is being seen as a measure to bridge the gap between the two committees, which have had several differences. But critics say it will end up diluting cec's role. "cec takes up a lot of forest-related issues after they are cleared by fac. The person responsible for clearances will examine appeals as a member of cec, which means he will get to hear appeals against the cases that he has cleared as the head of fac. Clearly, it's an issue," says Kanchi Kohli, member of Kalpvriksh, an environmental action group in Delhi.
Since late 2006, there have been several disputes between cec and the environment ministry over fac's constitution. The ministry had refused to comply with cec's suggestions on members to be included in fac (see 'Matter of fac', Down To Earth, January 15, 2007). The dispute showed no signs of ending and the supreme court had stayed reconstitution of fac in December 2006.
In April 2007, the court allowed fac to examine projects on the condition that all the clearances would be scrutinized by cec; and in a number of cases, it questioned fac clearances and asked for their cancellation or increased compensation.
The environment ministry asked the apex court to scrap cec. cec's five-year term was to end in September 2007. It filed an affidavit around the same time seeking termination of the committee, saying cec was never mandated in the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The apex court ordered that cec would continue to operate for another three years or until further orders, whichever was earlier.
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