New Delhi: In three years, India’s environment ministry approved diversion of over 20,000 hectares of forest land for developmental projects like mining, thermal power plants, irrigation, road and railway projects across India, environmental news portal Mongabay has reported.
Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha together account for over 62 percent of the total forest land diverted during this period.
Diversion of forests for non-forestry projects has always been a contentious issue in India especially in light of poor monitoring of conditions on which environment ministry clears the diversion.
The Indian government has diverted over 20,000 hectares of forest area for developmental activities such as mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects in the past three years (2015-18) across India.
According to the official data revealed by the National Democratic Alliance government in Parliament in December 2018, a total of 20,314.12 hectares of forest land was diverted in three years 2015-2018 (till December 13, 2018). During this period, the ministry had received a total of 4,552 proposals and of those 1,280 (28.11 percent) got approved.
Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes like mining. In lieu of the land, money is collected by the government which is then used by the authorities for afforestation.
But the diversion of forest land for developmental projects has always been a contentious issue and in the past 10 years the opposition to diversion has increased with environmentalists repeatedly alleging that the union environment ministry only works like a rubber stamp clearing whatever projects come to it, seeking diversion of the forest land.
However the ministry officials say this is untrue. “Many proposals are in different stages of approval. Contrary to popular belief, the ministry is very sensitive to giving clearance for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes,” said an environment ministry official on the condition of anonymity.
According to information revealed in the Parliament, Telangana topped the list with 5,137.38 hectares of forest land diverted, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 4,093.38 hectares and Odisha with 3,386.67 hectares of forest area diverted. The three states together account for over 62 percent (12,617.43 hectares) of the total forest land diverted during the said three-year period.
With close to 70.82 million hectares of forest area, about 21.54 percent of India’s land is under forest cover.
The reasons for diversion of forest area varied from irrigation, hydropower, road and railway projects to defence, mining, transmission line, schools and wind power projects. Of the total forest area diverted during the said time, the highest amount was diverted for irrigation projects, followed by mining and thermal power plants.
“Proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 are received in the ministry from the concerned states and UTs (union territories). The proposals are examined in the ministry (MoEFCC) and after due diligence the proposals are either approved or rejected within the framework of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and its supporting rules and guidelines,” said Indian government’s Minister of State in the MoEFCC Mahesh Sharma while replying to a query in Parliament in December 2018.