PMO wants new rules to speed up linear projects in forest land

In a bid to speed up infrastructure projects, the Prime Minister's Office is said to have asked the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to issue fresh directions to facilitate 'unconditional forest clearance' waiving off the requirement for gram sabha nod for linear projects, small public utility projects and projects that do not 'substantially' affect the quality of the life of people.

While the PMO has been asking the MoEF for the last few months to examine ways to expedite the method of granting forest and environment clearance, in a meeting held on December 12, 2012, it was decided that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs will have to relax its guidelines. Both ministries are yet to issue any fresh circular.

As per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), a resolution of the gram sabha of the area and a public hearing endorsing that the project is in interest of the people living there is necessary for projects that traverse through forest land.

The PMO's directions that were to be implemented by December 31, 2012, say that the gram sabha resolution should not be mandatory for linear projects like roads, canals, laying of pipelines, optical fibre cables and transmission lines. It stipulates that statutorily mandated consultation should have been carried out earlier and communicated to the state in cases where gram sabha nod has been proposed to be waived off.

Unconditional forest clearance would require a certificate from the state government stating that complete process of recognition and vesting of rights under FRA has been carried out in the forest areas proposed for diversion for a project.

Where the vesting of forest rights is yet to begin, states will have to confirm that they will do so before giving a final nod to project proposal.

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