Forest Advisory Committee raise concerns
From Times of India 19.9.11
In a scathing letter loaded with this explosive critique of the committee's functioning for the past some time, the three -- Ullas Karanth, the world's foremost tiger expert; Amita Baviskar, associate professor at the Institute of Economic Growth; and Mahesh Rangarajan,
The FAC is the mandatory body under the
General of Forests.
The three have written, "From the bottom up, state forest departments/governments are routinely approving even obviously damaging projects. They have abdicated their role of due diligence, mandatory under the Forest Conservation Act, and honest expression, possibly under political or other pressure."
Natarajan confirmed receiving the letter and told TOI, "Yes, I have got the letter from the three non-official members. I am going to consider it seriously and will certainly make any course correction that is required."
TOI had earlier reported how in 20 months of Jairam Ramesh's more than two-year tenure, the environment ministry had cleared 1,446 projects requiring 31,501 hectares of forestland to be levelled - equal to half the size of Mumbai. Another 993 projects got 'in-principle' clearance to divert 35,391 hectares of land over the same period. Officials, in reply to an RTI query then, had said they did not even hold the mandatory documents required as precondition to clear the projects.
The three have now written that they have doubts whether their proposal to get the big projects verified on the ground for facts by empanelled experts was deliberately suppressed despite repeated assurances by the forest bureaucracy.
"We are being forced to take decisions on the basis of inadequate and inaccurate information. When we impose conditions, there is no guarantee that they will be enforced," they said.
In most cases, the fact sheet they get from officials on each case fails to provide a substantive basis for rational decision-making, they said. "The only way of accurately evaluating a project is by using independent experts and this procedure needs to become routine in the
functioning of the FAC," the three wrote.
They said the forest bureaucracy was not even providing all the information required under the law for them to take a decision.
The three experts also said there was no monitoring of projects once conditions were imposed. "Violations of previous conditions imposed by the FAC are going unchecked," they wrote.
They even cited examples to the minister of how projects were being cleared with shoddy and wrong information.
In the report on the controversial Niyamgiri bauxite mining case of Vedanta, they said, "A retired senior official claimed there was an animal with stripes that could either have been a tiger or a hyena and this on the basis of discussion at roadside tea shops)!"
In the cases of Mahan coalfield of Madhya Pradesh and Tara coalfield in Chhattisgarh, they said, "The on-site inspection team found that forest density figures provided in the ministry 'factsheet' were completely at variance with those provided by the Forest Survey of
They said no one was punished for providing such false information in the FAC meetings.
They recorded that even the agenda of FAC was not put up in public domain giving them or people time to react in time like it is done in the environmental clearance process.
TOI had earlier reported the conflict between the non-official members and the forest officials on the Posco case as well with the latter initially refusing to bear the responsibility of compliance with the