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Govt to fix deadlines for green nod (April)



Times of India, Delhi, Tuesday 1st April 2014

The government is set to fix timelines for forest clearances and hopes to grant approvals in less than a year, compared to a much longer time period, under a new electronic mechanism proposed to be put in place around the time a new regime takes charge.

In what is being seen as a first, officers at the state-level would be required to scrutinize applications within 10 days and if no queries are raised, the proposal would deemed to be accepted under a new paper-less approval mechanism that includes state as well as central-level forest clearances, which are an eight-stage process, said officials familiar with the development.

The ministry of environment and forest has agreed to implement the new mechanism and a portal is being readied with test runs slated to begin as early as next month. This will be followed by a similar exercise for the five-step environment clearances, with mining approvals due to be taken up next.

A large number of projects have been held up for the past several years due to the red-tape related to environment and forest clearances. Of the project cleared by the project management group (PMG) in the cabinet secretariat, which is dealing with large infrastructure projects held up due to inter-ministry wrangling, nearly a quarter related to green clearances, while 42% of the unresolved issues are environment and forest approvals. In several cases, forest clearances have been pending for years, holding up investments running into thousands of crores. Close to 40% of the projects were held up due to want of green clearances.

Sources said the e-approvals driven by the cabinet secretariat were meant to provide transparency and also help fix responsibility on officials holding up approvals. "The idea is to allow online tracking of documents, approvals and online communication at every stage to avoid physical movement of files," said an official. The system will enable an applicant can see the proposal move from one desk to another.

For forest clearances, projects will be divided into four categories with those involving forest land up to less than five hectares getting the fastest approvals, while those with over 100 hectares will take longer to get a green light. For example, the smaller projects will be examined by the divisional forest officer, conservator and the collector within 30 days, the larger ones will have to be approved within 60 days.