The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sop shower drenches forest lands
- Poll run-up scurry to clear projects pending for years

New Delhi, Feb. 8: Even the environment has not been spared the shower of poll sops with the ministry concerned clearing projects that have been in the pipeline for years.

Union environment minister Ramesh Bais has cleared five development projects in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and his home state Chhattisgarh, most of which will be implemented on forest land.

“The minister is rushing to clear projects that have not been given clearance for more than a decade,” an environmentalist said. “These are clearances made with an eye on the general elections.”

The Bodhghat Hydroelectric Project in Chhattisgarh, for instance, has been pending since the early 1980s. This was one of the proposals submitted by the government of united Madhya Pradesh to increase the state’s power generation. The project will involve clearing 5,734 hectares of forest land.

“The Bodhghat Hydroelectric Project proposes the diversion of thousands of hectares of forest and millions of trees and bamboo. The seniormost forest officers of the state and the government have recommended it,” said a worker with a non-government organisation.

Bais has also announced the decision to divert 259.94 hectares of forest to construct the Dalirajhara-Jagdalpur rail line, in keeping with Chhattisgarh’s request.

“The state government and the railway ministry have been requested to submit the fresh details regarding the places to be connected by the proposed railway line,” an environment ministry official said.

Environmentalists point out it is mandatory for the government to compensate conversion of forest land into revenue land with corresponding afforestation. But the reality is different.

Between 1990 and 1995, 204,000 hectares of forest were diverted. Nearly 70 per cent of this diversion, about 145,000 hectares, occurred in Madhya Pradesh, the “land of tigers” that has 30 per cent forest cover.

Nearly 1 million hectares of forest land in India have already been encroached. “The Forest Conservation Act came into being in 1980. A committee in the environment ministry is supposed to ensure that none of our forests is diverted under the act without this committee’s recommendation,” an environmentalist said.

Bais’s other decisions include the diversion of 191.864 hectares for the construction of Indira Sagar, a project for generating electricity in Madhya Pradesh.

He has also decided to convert all forest villages in the seven districts of Chhattisgarh to revenue villages.

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