ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Helping Forests Disappear

The environment ministry’s latest decision is the thin edge of the wedge.

It is strange indeed that the private sector as well as the ministries dealing with it continue to chorus the same line – that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) headed by Jayanthi Natarajan is “obstructionist” and delaying vital developmental projects. Natarajan’s record, since she took office in July 2011, has been quite to the contrary. In fact, compared to her predecessor Jairam Ramesh, whose pro-environment stance had private investors crying for his head and finally pushing him out of office, Natarajan has made many important concessions to industry. On her own admission, she has granted “forest clearance” to 754 out of 828 projects in the last 18 months.

Her latest such concession could well turn out to be the most far-reaching, a virtual thin edge of the wedge opening up India’s already dwindling natural forests to greater exploitation and consequently degradation. On 6 February, the MoEF issued a circular saying that it would no longer be mandatory for gram sabhas to give prior approval to diversion of forestland for linear infrastructure projects such as roads, canals and power transmission lines. Under an earlier circular of 2009, and in line with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, this requirement was mandatory.

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