Clearly signalling that defence projects are high priority for the Narendra Modi government, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday said his ministry is working on a policy framework to fast-track green clearance processes for border roads and defence projects in the area up to 100 kms from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
This move could give a major boost to India’s new Mountain Strike Corps against China — several elements of which are stuck due to pending environment clearances.
Defence Ministry sources said that close to 80 critical border roads have been stuck for many years due to environmental hurdles. These include crucial GS (General Staff) roads that link border outposts and camps to the main roadhead. In all, around 6,000 km of critical road stretches which were stuck can now be expedited.
In fact, the Defence Ministry has also been working on a legislation to ensure exemption of strategically significant projects — especially those along the LAC — from green regulations that may be hampering progress.
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While these roads projects are crucial, the more critical project that could be passed with relaxed norms would be to establish the elements of the new Mountain Strike Corps that is being raised along the eastern border with China.
Even as the Corps headquarters and other elements are being raised, the new formation requires camps, infrastructure and military bases along the border. Sources said that such projects, on approximately 5,000 hectares of land in the eastern sector (mostly Arunachal Pardesh), have been held up due to environmental hurdles.
In the past, the Defence Ministry has taken up the issue of expediting green clearances in border road projects several times. Several border road projects frequently run into trouble with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), as many of these not only propose to traverse through forest land but also through reserved parks and sanctuaries.
Last year, the Defence Ministry had also requested the MoEF for relaxation in forest conservation rules to allow diversion of forest land for creation of essential infrastructure in border areas in an area up to 5 hectares.
On Thursday, Javadekar said after his meeting with the Defence Secretary that the move towards a defence specific policy framework was intended “to reduce the delays caused by the process of environmental clearances particularly for the defence projects”.
“It was an effort intended to make simpler, transparent and predictable the process for environmental clearances. Going forward, the ministry would take decisions rooted in the policy framework rather than making case-by-case decisions. The details of the policy framework would be worked out soon and the document would be put in the public space,” said a statement issued by the MoEF.
Earlier this week, the minister had said that top priority woud be given to defence and national security-related projects when taking decisions on green clearances. Javadekar has already given the go-ahead for the expansion of Project Seabird — the country’s largest naval base — that had been stuck for three years, and is also likely to rule favourably towards setting up of a Naval base at the Narcondam islands in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
As per information shared in the Parliamentary Standing Committee report earlier this year, the government has plans to undertake construction of 73 roads on operational significance along the Indo-China border in Phase I. Of these, 46 are strategically significant, being constructed by the Defence Ministry, and 27 roads running through 805 kms are being funded by the Home Ministry at Rs 805 crore for effective movement of the Indo-Tibet Border Police force. As many as 26 ITBP priority roads are currently under construction along the Indo-China border.