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Forest ministry opens up 92,000 hectare of forests

The forest ministry has been on a land diversion spree recommending a massive 91,798 hectare area (918 sqkm) to be diverted in the last eight months.

The decision was taken by the Forest Advisory Committee(FAC) of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF & CC), raising serious concerns for the environment at a time when forested lands are being considered valuable carbon sinks.

FAC has diverted forest area towards 70 projects, which is equivalent to four times the area of Maharashtra side of Pench Tiger Reserve (257 sqkm).

A review of the FAC minutes by members of a Delhi-based facility — the Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre (ERC) — revealed that in May, 61,278 hectare (613 sqkm) was recommended in one meeting alone.

"FAC seems to be in a tearing hurry to divert forest land. This can be gauged from the fact that in August, three meetings were held to clear projects involving 15,027 hectare area. Interestingly, the compilation of area excludes proposals up to 40 hectare which are dealt with at the regional level," said Pushp Jain of the ERC.

During the period, FAC considered 134 proposal, out of which it rejected just two. 70 projects were recommended for diversion, while the rest were deferred for want of more information.

Among the major proposals that were cleared included the controversial river linking Ken-Betwa main project which had diversion of 6,017 hectare of forest land in favour of National Water Development Agency (NWDA), in Chhattarpur near Panna and Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh.

Jain said the project is going to cause irreparable damage to Panna Tiger Reserve. "The project is simply senseless as no account of alternative sites was considered and study does not recommend the project," he said

ERC had opposed Ken-Betwa proposals as they are illegal in nature as per the section 35 (6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and a great loss of forest and wildlife.ERC's Terence Jorge said the recommended projects do not include 695.72 hectare forest land for limestone mining at Shedwai in Chandrapur district. "But this was done owing to legal complications and not considering the area which falls in the Tadoba-Kawal tiger corridor," he said.

The Times of India

Vijay Pinjarkar