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Green Ministry Lays Out Norms for Clearance & Monitoring of Forests

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 17th June, 2013

Industry's demand for a predictable and more structured forest clearance system could soon be a reality. An environment ministry committee has recommended improvements to the forest clearance and monitoring of clearance conditions takes place.

The committee has described "monitoring" as the "weakest link" in the "entire forest clearance process". It has provided the structure for a "transparent, effective and unbiased" system to facilitate expeditious follow up in the event that clearance conditions have not been met.
 The proposed monitoring system includes self-monitoring by project proponents and the forest administration. The system also relies on third-party monitoring by the accredited institutions and experts, as well as the use of remote sensing satellite for real time data.

Besides, buttressing the monitoring mechanism, the committee has recommended changes across the board, right from the manner of inspection of forest land under consideration for diversion, verification of reports.

To improve inspection of forests being considered for diversion, the committee has, in line with the Supreme Court order, suggested setting up site inspection standing committees. These will look into cases where there are doubts about project developers' claim that no forest land is being used. While there exist a detailed system scrutinising applications for forest land, there is no system of verification.

The committee has suggested using real-time satellite imagery for this purpose. The committee's most far-reaching suggestions are in the area of monitoring. The proposed system requires that project developers using more than 100 hectares of forest land to prepare status reports of compliance of clearance conditions, which will have to be reviewed by the company's executive head and published both in the company's annual report and its website.

The latter will allow for affected individuals, stakeholders and the public to review the company's claim. In its report on the website, the company would have to provide the measures it has taken or is taking to rectify non-compliance or partial compliance of conditions.

The company will have to submit annual compliance reports by January 31 for the preceding calendar year to the nodal officer under the Forest Conservation Act, the deputy conservator of forests, the conservator of forests, the principal chief conservator of forests, the state government and the regional office of the environment forests.

The state government will report to the ministry companies that have failed to undertake the self-verification exercise. The report should also provide the punitive actions it has taken or is taking against companies that have not met all the conditions set out while granting the forest clearance. The ministry will take necessary action based on these reports.

Alongside this system of self-verification, the committee has laid out a system, which requires the forest administration to monitor compliance. Responsibilities with timelines have been set out for the deputy conservator of forests, the conservator of forests and nodal officers to monitor adherence to clearance conditions of mining activities, hydel and industrial projects during construction and post construction stage.

Depending on the level of the monitoring official and the project, these would be annual, biennial, triennial, or even once in five years. Building in another level of checks, the committee has suggested montoring by the central government through its regional offices, third parties (accredited institutions and experts) and real time satellite data. It has also set out a system of addressing major violations affecting flaura, fauna and the environment and for minor violations.