So the Forest Survey of India says that about 90% of the country’s forest area can be opened up for “development”. It says about 11% of our forests should be strict no-go zone!
To implement its development agenda, the new government wants to speed up clearances – environmental in particular. This looks difficult with current arrangement. So the government wants to now tweak Environment , Wildlife and Forest Laws to make room to development projects.
For that, the government needs to amend old laws that hinder this “growth” process. They set up a committee to look into 6 laws and how they could be amended to bring them “in tandem with the developmental imperatives and environment protection.”, and euphemism for how to ensure the environment Ministry doesn’t hinder industrial growth.
Which acts did the committee review? 6 of them.
- Environment Protection Act, 1986
- Forest Conservation Act, 1980
- Wildlife Protection)Act, 1972
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- The Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981
- Indian Forest Act , 1927 – was not included in the original scheme. Added later on.
You are not supposed to know the names of all committee members. But this particular committee headed by TSR Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary did not have any environmentalist.
I’ll summarize the recommendations of the committee briefly.
- Under ELMA, Set up National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) at central and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA) at state level. It will do the following:
- evaluate project clearance using technology and expertise, in a time bound manner, provide single window clearance.
- appraise and monitor projects.
- take powers of existing pollution control boards.
- Subsume air and water pollution acts into Environment Protection Act and monitor conditions imposed on industrial units.
- In simple words, the principle is similar to what President Reagan said “I will trust you, but I will verify you”
- It is basically self-certification system by project developers. They should disclose all the information about the project – technology, environmental impact etc. This information will be assessed.
- You should be aware of what compensatory afforestation is. When forest land is diverted for non -forest purposes, the developer must provide money for compensatory afforestation i.e planting of trees on another piece of land. He must also pay compensation for the loss of environmental services provided by the forest land due to the diversion.
- As per the committee, area for compensatory afforestation in the revenue land should be doubled from the current one hectare for each hectare of forestland diverted to non-forest use for development projects. The compensatory afforestation in degraded forest land should be increased to three times the forestland diverted to non-forest use from the current rate of two times the diverted land. The committee also recommended increasing the net present value (NPV) of the forest paid by the project developers for diversion of forests to five times of what it is today.
- an amendment to provide a clear exception for all linear projects – roads, pipelines and power lines, etc.
- Administrative tribunal to review clearances on appeal.
- District-level courts to decide on infringement of environmental laws.
- Earlier it included wildlife corridors, lands with high biodiversity value and lands that acted as catchment of rivers.
- The plan is to now reduce it to the existing protected wildlife areas and forest patches with more than 70 per cent canopy cover. Forests with 70% canopy cover, classified by the Forest Survey of India as very dense forests, account for nearly 12%.
- The implication of this proposal is that miners will be left with more area due to a shrunk no go area.
- Present definition of forests is based on a SC order. Where the laws should be applied is possible only when there is a clear definition of forests.
- New All India Service – Indian Environment service to bring qualified and skilled human resource in the environment sector. This should make you happy. Perhaps, more seats.
- Environment Reconstruction Fund
- National Environment Research Institute.
After this heavy dosage of recommendations, if you want to gain more insight on the the committee’s view, watch this video.