|Forest officials pose danger to forests: Experts
TIMES OF INDIA Nitin Sethi, TNN
September 19, 2011
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
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 senior-most forest officers in
the ministry, including the Director General of Forests.
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."
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."
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.
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
"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
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
They said the forest bureaucracy was not even providing all the information required under the law for them to take a decision.