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Dense forests should be out of bounds for industry: panel

The committee has suggested that projects of national importance, including large power or mining projects, needed to be fast-tracked.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi |
November 21, 2014 4:30:39 am

No industrial or mining activity should be allowed in forests with more than 70 per cent tree cover and in designated protected areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, an expert committee that was set up to review environmental laws has recommended in its report.

The four-member committee led by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian has suggested that if some infrastructural or development work indeed needs to be permitted in these areas, it should be allowed only after an authorisation from Union Cabinet.

Forests with more than 70 per cent tree cover are classified as ‘very dense forests’ and comprise about 12 per cent of the entire designated forest area in the country, according to the 2013 edition of the India State of Forest Report.

Subramanian committee’s proposal, if accepted, would, for the first time, create ‘No-Go’ areas for all sorts of industrial or development projects. Till now, a ‘No-Go’ area only for coal mining is under consideration. The Coal Ministry had proposed the need for identifying areas which would be out of bounds for mining for environmental reasons. But due to differences with the Environment Ministry over what these areas should be, this ‘No-Go’ area, or ‘Inviolate’ as it was later called, has not been identified till now.

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The states with maximum areas under ‘very dense forest’ cover are Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttarakhand. In fact, if the committee’s recommendation is accepted, one-fourth of Arunachal Pradesh would be out of bounds for all sorts of industrial or infrastructural projects.

The committee has noted that while the total forest area has been shown to be growing over the years, the quality of forests has gone down substantially. Accordingly, it has asked for a new definition for the term forest, and not count a group of trees as forest. It has said that the net present value (NPV) of the forests has been under-estimated and suggested that it should be increased by “at least” five times. The NPV is used to calculate the compensation that companies have to pay if they set up their projects on forest land.

The committee has suggested that projects of national importance, including large power or mining projects, needed to be fast-tracked. In this regard, it has said that in case of linear projects, like construction of roads, railways, or laying of pipelines, the need for public hearing, as part of the Environment Impact Assessment, could be waived off.

As reported by The Indian Express earlier, the Subramanian committee recommended a complete overhaul of the environmental governance framework that would allow for speedy environmental clearances to projects but impose heavy penalties on those who flout the norms or violate laws.

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