Moily ministry set to notify new forest conservation rules

The Veerappa Moily-led Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is set to notify new Forest Conservation (Amendment) Rules, 2013 that will bring in more 'realistic' timelines for granting forest clearances to projects and will also require officials to give explanations if these deadlines are not met.

Agreeing to accommodate concerns raised by some infrastructure ministries, particularly Mining and Coal, the MoEF will also allow for a more relaxed and shorter forest clearance procedure for exploratory/prospecting projects. Highly placed sources confirmed that the new Environment Minister has approved the fresh set of rules.

The new rules propose varying and tiered timelines for projects depending on the requirement of forest land. So a project involving say diversion of only 5ha forest land will be processed faster than one involving more than 100ha of forest land. The rules also fix deadlines at each level from the state to the Centre including provision for transit period so that a 'realistic' and 'workable' timeline is brought in place.

While the ministries of Mines and Oil & Petroleum among others had sought complete exemption from forest clearance processes for prospecting proposals aimed at exploring new mineable coal/hydrocarbon reserves, the MoEF did not agree with such a blanket exemption. Instead, it proposed a separate and simple process, specifically for prospecting and exploratory projects.

Currently, even proposals to explore new mining possibilities have to go through the entire forest clearance process, like full-fledged mining projects. Under the new Forest Conservation rules, exploratory projects will not have to go through time-consuming processes like counting exact number of trees that may be affected. They will instead have to give information on approximate trees that may be affected by the prospecting exercise.

On the issue of timelines, the ministries of Power and Coal had initially objected as it would extend the current 150 days time limit for disposing a forest clearance proposal to a maximum of 300 days for projects involving forest land diversion of more than 100 hectares. The stakeholder ministries felt it may just end up delaying clearances even further.

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