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State gears up for forest e-clearance

Ranchi, June 30: Jharkhand is gearing up to follow the central system of time-bound online forest clearance launched by the Narendra Modi government to help investors acquire forestland faster, an initiative that needs to walk the tightrope between the demands of economy and ecology.

Principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) A.K. Gupta, who attended a Union ministry of environment and forests training session in New Delhi recently, said online clearance would help forestland acquisition move on a time-bound track across the many tiers of government scrutiny.

From July 2, state forest department will start training sessions for its staff and other stakeholders in Ranchi on online clearance processes, said Gupta.

“The actual date of operations will be communicated to us formally by the Union ministry of environment and forests, but things have started moving,” he added.

The Centre wanted all states to begin online forest clearance system from July 1. But state officials said it was likely to get pushed till July second week due to preparations.

According to norms, the state issues forest clearance to any project that requires forestland of up to 40 hectares. The Union ministry of environment and forest clears any project that needs over 40 hectares. However, any mining related project, no matter how much land it needs, falls under central purview.

Currently, when a user agency (read investor) submits an application for forest clearance and land diversion, the file moves to roughly around 70-75 tables of the state and Centre.

The new system will reduce these bottlenecks. Now, investor applications must be submitted online on forestclearances.nic.in. This central website is connected to all state forest departments.

So, a user agency has to log on and create an ID before uploading an application for forestland with project details and requirements.

Within 10 days, the nodal officer concerned has to scrutinise the file and say whether it is accepted or rejected at his or her level and state the reasons behind the decision.

If accepted, the DFO concerned will get a text message from the system about the application. Then, the DFO needs to make a physical survey of the forestland and submit an online feasibility report between 25-30 days. Once done, the conservator of forest will get a text message prompter for his recommendation, who will then forward it to the state government via PCCF. The state will send it to the Centre.

“It will be win-win situation for all as the investor and government officials can track the online application status at any given moment,” said a senior forester.

“Manual visits to offices equal wastage of time and resources. Online forest clearance will end this. Also, no one can manipulate an online file, because details will be visible to all. The system will also allow the general public to check on projects, their details and status,” he added.

The only problem with online clearance is the fear among environmentalists that if the system starts working efficiently, it will be more skewed towards investors than ecological needs, leading to industrialisation of large green belts.


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