Procedure for forest clearance subverted, turned farcical, says report

Explaining the logic behind the decision, the Centre had said the country needs the coal to power its energy and industrial sectors
An investigation by Down To Earth magazine has raised questions about the rationale behind the government’s recent move to auction more coal blocks.

 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in June that 41 new coal blocks would be opened for auction to the private sector.

Explaining the logic behind the decision, the Centre had said the country needs the coal to power its energy and industrial sectors.

Releasing Down To Earth’s report at a webinar here on Tuesday, the magazine’s editor Sunita Narain said mining coal has serious pollution implications. So the need is to “optimise on current mines – not mine more”.

 
The magazine’s investigation showed that since 1980, when the Forest Conservation Act was enacted, India has diverted 0.53 million hectares of forestland for mining — the bulk of it for coal. Since 2015, 49 projects have been cleared. This is expected to have led to the decimation of over 19,000 hectares of forestland; cutting down of over one million trees; and displacement of over 10,000 families.

 
Narain said there is clear evidence that existing processes of assessing and diverting forests under the Act have been subverted. “Our research finds that these have been weakened so much that they have become farcical,” she said.

 
The government, the magazine says, has argued it has moved out of the system of categorising forests as No-Go and instead has devised a sophisticated decision support system so that each forest block, which is required to be diverted for mining, can be assessed in terms of ecological, hydrological and other parameters. However, the report found this “scientific process of decision-making has been made meaningless”.

 
This has happened because, firstly, there is lack of data on the ecological qualities of the forests which would allow for the software to identify such areas as inviolate. Secondly, it can be ‘tweaked’ — as minutes have revealed — to make the No-Go, into a Go-forest. The magazine has published minutes of meetings where the coal ministry officials were ‘deputed’ to work with the Forest Survey of India to ‘rework’ the conditions so that forests can be cleared for mining.


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