Shillong, Dec. 4: Meghalaya will now have a definition of forest, as the absence of one has brought about confusion and controversy in the past.
The Mukul Sangma-led cabinet this evening approved the amendment to be brought to the Meghalaya Forest Regulation Act, 1973, wherein an additional clause has been inserted to define a forest area.
According to the clause, “An area would be considered a forest if it is a compact or continuous tract of minimum four hectares of land, irrespective of ownership, where more than 250 naturally growing trees per hectare of 15cm and higher diameter of breast height over bark are present or more than 100 naturally growing bamboo clumps per hectare are present in case of the tracts containing predominantly sympodial bamboo.”
However, if 60 per cent of the tract is covered with trees and 40 per cent with bamboo, then the qualifying numbers shall be more than 150 trees of 15cm and higher diameter of breast height over bark and more than 40 bamboo clumps per hectare for identifying such areas as forest.
Although the cabinet approved the insertion of the additional clause, the Meghalaya Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2012, will have to be placed in the Assembly, which will be meeting on December 11, 13 and 14 for the winter session, to attain the consent of the House.
“This definition will now remove the confusion among the people,” Prestone Tynsong, state forest and environment minister said after the cabinet meeting.
He said in future if any controversy arises, the forest department would be guided by the definition and spot verification would be undertaken.
Earlier, several controversies had arisen on whether particular plots are forest or non-forest areas, particularly in the Jaintia Hills where numerous cement companies have set up shop.
The state government also had to constitute committees to verify whether those cement plants were actually in the forest areas.
In fact, a joint-inspection committee comprising Meghalaya chief conservator of forests C.P. Marak and additional-principal chief conservator of forests B.N. Jha from the regional office of the Union ministry of environment and forests, was set up in February this year, to verify allegations that the cement plants had flouted environmental norms.
Saying that the report of the committee is in its final stages, Tynsong, however, said the amendment would not have any “retrospective effect,” implying that the additional clause will not be applicable to the existing cement companies.
The cabinet also approved the amendment to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, where the salary for the president of State Consumer Redressal Commission has been enhanced.
According to food and civil supplies minister R.C. Laloo, there are no takers for the post of president of the commission in view of the unattractive remuneration. He said the commission president would be selected from among the sitting judges of any high court or a retired high court judge.
He also said the enhanced salary for the commission president would be equivalent to the last salary received by a judge. Apart from the salary enhancement, the commission president will receive Rs 1,000 per sitting.