The T S R Subramanian committee has recommended a massive revamp of various forest laws, to expedite the processing of industrial applications.
These range from the way forests are defined to cutting the procedures in attaining forest clearance for industrial projects.
At present, three laws - Indian Forests Act (IFA) of 1927, Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980 and the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) of 1972 - govern these matters.
The panel has said a forest should be defined as an area so notified under the IFA with the government record and not include plantations grown on private land. "Forest should not include any plantation raised on private land by any individual or agency," is one recommendation. Roadside plantations might also come out of the ambit of being declared part of a forest.
This might encourage private plantations, the panel saying individuals were reluctant to grow plants on their private land.
The primary step in filing a forest clearance proposal is to attach a topographic map with the application. "As this (map) is treated as classified by the Survey of India, it takes time to obtain this," the committee noted. It has suggested a project developer be allowed to attach geo-referenced maps marking the area in which the project has to be set up. This may be had directly from the Forest Survey of India's website. It will also reduce the time for a forest officer (FO) to examine the proposal (two months is presently given for this).
After this, according to the present rules, a project developer makes a wildlife plan, on the details of managing wildlife and impact of industries in the near vicinity. The committee said as this was a process taking two months, regional wildlife plans should be prepared by the state governments instead, as a project developer would require official assistance to formulate a plan, a tedious task.
After this, the FO carries out physical verification for enumeration and marking of trees, to avoid illicit felling during setting up of a factory. The panel says enumeration can be done at a later stage of the proposal, rather than at the primary level. "As this process of field verification involving ground-truthing appears unavoidable, it is suggested the enumeration not hold up processing of the application. Once first-stage approval is received, enumeration of trees can be taken up. This process could be speeded by outsourcing this function to an agency under the supervision of the District FO," said the panel.
After the FO examines all these documents, the file is moved to the principal chief conservator of forests, who forwards this to the Union ministry of environment and forests.
A project developer is bound to produce a certificate showing all the claims and settlement processes of forest dwellers has been duly filed and processed under the FRA. The panel notes many applications are not accompanied by such a certificate and a large number of cases are pending with MoEF. It suggests first-stage approval do not require such certification.
"The certificate under the FR Act can be provided/ obtained during the prescribed period for compliance with the conditions of first stage clearance," the panel said. Also, in cases of linear projects, the panel suggests doing away with the need for formal approval from the gram sabhas concerned.