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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Forest officials pose danger to forests: Experts

Accuse Them Of Hiding Facts To Okay Projects

New Delhi: Forest officials are fudging data, hiding facts, sidestepping laws, overlooking violations and finding ways of clearing even projects that are dangerous for forests, three non-official members on the statutory Forest Advisory Committee have told environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan. 
    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, director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library—just stopped short of alleging corruption by the forest bureaucracy in the clearance process. 
    The FAC is the mandatory body under the Forest Conservation Act which recommends projects for using forestlands to the minister. Besides the three non-official members, the panel comprises some of the seniormost forest officers in the ministry, including the Director General of Forests. 
    The three have written, "From the bottom up, state forest departments/govern
ments are routinely approving even obviously damaging projects." India, China pay for West's pollution Anew study reveals the gigantic extent to which the developed world has polluted the world. Between 1850-2000, the US emitted carbon nearly three times the permissible limit by 2050. The entitlements for the US and the EU from 2000-2050 work out to -50GtC (giga tonnes of carbon) and -24 GtC. Even if these countries drop their emissions to zero starting today, nations like India and China will not be able to emit even a fraction of the carbon they are entitled to. P 13 Experts fear bid to scuttle vetting of big projects 
New Delhi: Three non-official members of the Forest Advisory Committee, all well-known names, have written to MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan about how forest officials are corrupting the environmental clearance process. "They have abdicated their role of due diligence, mandatory under the Forest Conservation Act, and honest expression, possibly under political or other pressure," they wrote. 
    Natarajan confirmed receiving the letter. "Yes, I've 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," she told TOI. 
    TOI had reported how in 20 months of Jairam Ramesh's over two-year tenure, the 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 thesame 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 written that they doubt whether their proposal to get the big projects verified on the ground for facts by empanelled experts was deliberately suppressed. "We're forced to take decisions on the basis of inadequate and inaccurate information. When we impose conditions, there's no guarantee they'll be enforced," they said. 
    In most cases, the fact sheet they get on each case fails to provide a substantive basis for rational decision-making. "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," they wrote. They said the forest bureaucracy 
was not even providing 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 retiredsenior 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 MP and Tara coalfield in Chhattisgarh, they said, "The on-site inspection team found that forest density figures provided in the ministry 'factsheet' werecompletely at variance with those provided by the Forest Survey of India. There is zero accountability for such amazingly inaccurate reportage." They said no one was punished for providing such false information in the FAC meetings. 
    They recordedthateven 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.


    State forest 
    departments/govts are routinely approving even obviously damaging projects. They have abdicated their role of due diligence... and honest expression, possibly under political or other pressure 
LETTER BY ULLAS KARANTH, AMITA BAVISKAR AND MAHESH RANGARAJAN


I am going to consider it seriously and will certainly make any course correction required 
JAYANTHI NATARAJAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

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