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Easier forest clearance for projects

New Delhi, Sept. 2: The Union environment and forests ministry has decided to decentralise the process of granting permission for most projects that require diversion of up to 40 hectares of forest land, delegating it to six regional committees across India.

Minister Prakash Javadekar today announced that regional empowered committees at the ministry’s regional offices would be authorised to approve all forest clearance proposals up to 40 hectares except for mining and hydroelectric projects.

“We won’t get 90 per cent of the (forest clearance) files,” Javadekar said at a news conference called to outline his ministry’s initiatives since the Narendra Modi-led government took over three months ago.

Until now, projects that required diversion of up to five hectares of forest land could be approved at the regional level. Senior environment ministry officials said only about 10 per cent of the projects require more than 40 hectares of forest land.

But projects related to mining, regularisation of encroachments and hydroelectric projects will continue to require forest clearance from the Union ministry.

Each of the regional committees will be chaired by the additional principal conservator of forests and will include three non-official experts in forestry and allied disciplines and two representatives of states. The decentralisation proposal is now awaiting vetting from the Union ministry of law and justice.

“Our government is working in the backdrop of policy paralysis,” Javadekar said, alluding to perceptions that the environment ministry under the earlier UPA government had held back decisions involving projects. “Now, people will see a government that takes decisions.”

“We’re bringing in simpler, cleaner and transparent mechanisms,” the minister said. His ministry has also since July this year introduced a system of online submission of applications for environment and forest clearances.

The environment ministry’s regional offices are located in Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Shillong.

Javadekar said the ministry has also relaxed forest clearance rules that would now allow states with Left-wing extremism to clear forest land on their own for projects requiring up to five hectares instead of the current one hectare.

He said the initiative is intended to bring development into areas affected by Left-wing extremism. Under the plan, states with Left-wing extremism need not consult the Union environment ministry for schools, clinics, medical colleges, electrical and telecommunication lines, drinking water, minor irrigation canals and non-conventional energy sources among 15 such categories of projects if they require less than five hectares of forest land.

Javadekar, speaking about initiatives to clean the Ganga, said 704 out of 764 “grossly polluting” industries discharging effluents into the river in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal have been inspected. And 180 of these industries have been issued directions to reduce pollution in the river.

The ministry has also instructed more than 3,200 highly polluting industries across the country to install online continuous monitoring systems to measure their effluents and emissions by March 2015.

Javadekar said the ministry has also upgraded the pollution norms to lower particulate matter emissions from India’s cement industry, which with an annual production of 280 million tonnes is the second largest in the world.