New government will have to fix eco clearance policy
The Economic Times | May 22, 2019
New Delhi: The new government at the Centre will have to streamline norms on development projects taken up in areas where tribal rights are involved. Infrastructure projects which involve diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam have been stalled and the states have pointed out that private developers must first take care of tribal rights before beginning ground work.
Government sources said the new government would hence have to decide on how to streamline the environment clearances, especially where tribals need to be uprooted.
“A political decision needs to be taken. At present, the project approval process is such that private developers apply for clearance under Forest Rights Act (FRA) at the last minute and when they don’t get approvals, the project gets stalled,” a senior government official told ET.
The tribal affairs ministry has recently received a number of cases from states where tribal rights have not been settled by developers.
Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam have pointed out that projects have been stalled as the proponents applied for FRA clearances at the last minute.
When a project developer plans to use forest land for non-forestry purposes, it approaches the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for clearances. It is a two stage process. Under stage 1, the developer has to fulfil conditions like compensatory afforestation. The developer gets preliminary or in principle clearance to get the project off ground. In the second stage, the developer is required to settle tribal rights under FRA in case there is displacement of forest dwellers in the area. The time between Stage 1 and Stage 2 is 2-3 years.
“The reports from state governments have revealed that rather than using the time to take care of tribal rights, developers seek other clearances and apply for FRA approval at the last minute. This inconveniences tribals living near the project site as well,” a tribal affairs ministry official told ET.
The ministry has now written to the environment ministry with the request that it ensure tribal rights are not flouted and claims are settled by developers before a project is initiated. “Ideally the tribal rights should be settled before in-principle approval is given at Stage 1,” said the tribal ministry official. A change in approval process would directly affect ease of project approval process.
The new government at the Centre will have to take a political call.
The tribal affairs ministry has also pointed out contradiction in procedures followed by the environment ministry. The communication points out, “the circular (on procedures for forest clearances) states ‘it is clarified that within the time period stipulated for compliance of Stage 1 condition, deputy commissioner shall complete the process of compliance of FRA…’ However, it also states that ‘compliance under FRA is not required for consideration of in-principle approval’.”