MoEF relaxes norms for infra projects in Naxal-hit districts

Marking a major shift in its stand on infrastructure projects in forest areas, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has shot off a number of guidelines to all state governments relaxing green norms for key infrastructure and public utility projects.

While in an order dated February 5, the Environment ministry has agreed to exempt a range of linear projects such as roads/ railways/ transmission lines from requirement of Gram Sabha level approval, which its 2009 guidelines had called for, in another guideline, dated February 1, it has relaxed forest conservation rules for 82 Naxal-hit districts.

The Environment ministry has been mired in controversies of late with infrastructure ministries blaming it for delays in green clearances that were allegedly stalling projects.

The Prime Minister's Office has been actively attempting to resolve the situation.

Giving in to demands raised by several state governments and the Ministry of Home Affairs that is implementing the Integrated Action Plan in 82 Naxal affected districts, the Environment ministry has permitted mining of stones in forest areas for construction of roads.

It has also agreed to relax the norms under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, for all categories of public roads and not just rural roads in development-deprived districts. So far, quarrying of material for construction of roads was only permitted in revenue land, which was proving to be a problem in the largely- forested districts affected by the Naxal issue.

The MoEF has issued another guideline to streamline forest clearance processes for mining leases calling for full forest clearance for the entire mining lease area, instead of piecemeal clearance of forest land.

The ministry has issued another order to clarify on environmental clearance criteria for projects from thermal and steel sector both with sourcing of coal from Coal India and from imported coal based projects.

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