Monday, January 19, 2015

06 Forest conservation clearances in India-III. The extraordinary difficulty of saying no

(A long version of the article is available at this link)

The coal sector and forest clearances

According to the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017), India is the world’s fourth largest consumer of coal (Planning Commission of India, 2012?, Vol.II, pp.130 et seq.). Total energy requirement is projected to grow at over 5% for the next two plan periods, and coal expected to remain the “dominant source of primary energy” (ibid., p.132). What is worrisome however, is that some of these projects “are plagued with uncertainties regarding fuel supply because they were based on imported coal and changes in government policies in the countries where the coal mines were located have raised the cost of coal”, a contingency not provided for in the power tariff agreements with the private investors (ibid., p.138 and p.149). The main impediments to achieving coal production were the “delays in forest and environmental clearances, problems of land acquisition and R&R, allocation of a block to more than one user and so on…”, “implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006” (ibid., p.134, 159), necessitating imports to fill the gaping shortage of 100 million tonnes in 2011-12, and leaving  25,000 MW of commissioned capacity under-utilized according to the Plan document (ibid., p.159).

View of Chotia hillside, Hasdeo-Arand coal field

From the environment and forest ministry’s point of view, however, there did not seem to be any grave deficiency in the forest and environment clearance process, keeping in view the need to carry out the conservationist spirit of the laws.

Friday, January 16, 2015

05 Forest conservation clearances in India-II. Avoiding fait accompli situations

(A long version of the article is available at this link)

Avoiding fait accompli situations

One of the chronic problems for the Forest Advisory Committee (and the MoEF) has been that proposals usually come up at the fag end of the project cycle, when massive investments have already been made in plant and machinery, roads and other infrastructure, and so on. Thus the FAC and MoEF can easily be made to appear as the ‘villain’ of the play, and the very fact that all other clearances have been already given, private and public investments already secured, bank clearances given, and production about to start, makes it almost impossible for the forest clearance to be denied. The user industry and the other ministries, imminent visits of national and international figures and international agencies are also there to bring some sort of pressure, moral if not direct, for acquiescence to the situation. Moreover, the project entities are usually willing to agree to any ameliorative or mitigative measures imaginable, at any cost, to get the project going, which makes the grounds for refusal of forest clearance appear trivial and specious, in comparison with the enormous gains to be made from commissioning the project;

These are termed fait accompli situations, and there are explicit exhortations in the FCA  Guidelines to avoid, or obviate, them.  In para 4.4, for instance, on “Projects Involving Forest as well as Non-forest Lands”, it is pointed out (disapprovingly) that work is often started on the non-forest components “in anticipation of the approval of the Central Government for release of the forest lands required…” (Handbook, p.36). In this context,

“Though the provisions of the Act may not have technically been violated,  by starting of work on non-forest lands, expenditure incurred on works on non-forest lands may prove to be infructuous if diversion of forest land involved is not approved. It has, therefore, been decided that if a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should not be started on non-forest land till approval of the Central Government for release of forest land under the Act has been given. (Handbook, p.36-37, emphasis in original).

It is not very clear what statutory force this “decision” has, as the Guidelines are usually considered to be of an advisory, rather than a binding, nature. In the real world, of course, almost no state government or, for that matter, project proponent, actually follows this advice, well aware that the best bet for getting forest clearance is to create as huge a fait accompli as funds will permit. Desperate ends, in other words, call for desperate measures, and the price to be paid will be only the odd project here and there suspended for making a moral example by (rarely) the ministry, or more usually by the courts in response to public interest litigation (PIL).

Government of India. 2004. Handbook of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (with Amendments made in 1988), Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2003 (with Amendments made in 2004), Guidelines & Clarifications (Up to June, 2004). Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi

Sunday, January 11, 2015

04 Forest conservation clearances in India-I. Features of the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980

Forest conservation clearances in India-I. Features of the FCA, 1980

The Forest (Conservation) Act was passed in 1980 with the stated objective “to provide for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto”. Since then a huge body of orders and proceedings has accumulated, issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), as well as an almost parallel undertaking by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and its originator, the Supreme Court (SC) (Dutta and Yadav, 2011), and now the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Throughout the period, there has been more than average interest in the working of these institutions, and in the rationale and the implications of decisions handed down by them in a myriad of cases, and criticism from both the environmentalists, who want more control, and the development protagonists, who find the Act a huge stumbling block.

During the last five year plan, the pace of development has been pushed up to meet the aspirations of the nation, and the frustration of the industrial and political leadership with the environmental controls has correspondingly risen to almost intolerable levels. Lurid stories of corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude have been bandied about, the ministers responsible have been portrayed as ‘green terrorists’ and worse, and efforts made on either side to take the decisions out of the hands of the MoEF, either by instituting an independent Authority or by giving the final say to a high-level committee at Cabinet level.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

03 Forestry challenges in India-II. Threats, opportunities

The challenges facing forestry in India-II. The threats and opportunities

In the previous section, some of the strengths and achievements of the forest sector were summarized. This section looks at the other side of the picture; or rather, looks at the picture from the other viewpoint, that of the social environmentalists and activists.

One of their major criticisms is that the whole forest administration set-up and governance framework is a vestige of the colonial government, and in their view this renders the work of the department devoid of merit.