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Comments on Draft Policy on the Grant of Forest Clearances: Sent 15th September 2013


Suggestions on Draft Policy on Inspection, Verification, Monitoring and the Overall Procedure Relating to the Grant of Forest Clearances and Identification of Forests

Sent on 15.07.2013

 

 1. Inspection

  1. Reference to Para 2.1.1 (i), Which guidelines and criteria are to be followed by the concerned authorities while deciding if the area is large, sensitive and fragile should be defined and placed as guidelines. Ecological services/ concerns should be given more importance than forestry and economic benefits while deciding the criteria.

  2. Each site inspection report, besides photographs should be accompanied with a site map and GPS coordinates recorded by the inspection team.

  3. Reference to Para 2.1.1 (iii) Why should the inspection for forest diversions less than 100 hectares be need based? This should be brought

    under compulsory inspection as the sum total of forest lands diverted shares a substantial percentage of the state's forest land.

2. Verification

  1. The GIS based decision support database containing the information as described in Para 3.1.5 shall be uploaded to website of MoEF and its Regional Offices in such a way that the database can be easily accessed and downloaded by general public.

  2. A state wise map of notified forests should be uploaded to MoEF websites which shall be downloadable as Google Earth file and high resolution image file with geo- co-ordinates (latitude and longitude).

 3. Monitoring


I. Self Monitoring Report

The user agency should prepare a 6 monthly compliance report and upload it on its website which should be easily accessible and downloadable from the website. User agency should also be asked to provide photographs along with the report.

  1. The compliance report submitted to the Ministry through Regional Office, State Government or Central Office should be uploaded to the MoEF websites of the respective offices.
  2. List of user agencies with their clearance certificates and conditions stipulated at the time of Forest Clearance and the links to the websites of the concerned project proponents should be uploaded on MoEF websites of regional offices.
  3. List of user agencies who do not submit the report, or comply to conditions only partially should be made public through the websites of Regional Offices of MoEF.


II. Monitoring by State Government

Maximum destruction to the forests is expected to happen during the construction or execution of the project, hence, there is a need for a stricter regulation in monitoring. Therefore, we recommend, all the projects that are under construction should be monitored on seasonal basis which comes out as 4 times a year with a minimum gap of 3 months between subsequent monitoring. The first visit should be done within 4 weeks from start of construction. After the construction is over, the monitoring should be done for a minimum of 2 times a year which should include pre and post monsoon monitoring with a minimum gap of 5 months between the monitoring, as the landscape often changes drastically after the rains. The same pattern should be followed in all categories of project. Our suggestions for monitoring are as follows:

Category

DCF

CF

Nodal Officer or his representative

During

Construction/Execution

3 monthly- 4 times a year

6 monthly-twice a year

Once a year

After Construction

6 monthly-twice a year

Once in a year

Once in 2 years

III. Monitoring by Regional Offices

  1. For Projects Under Construction (for all projects)- The Regional Offices of MoEF should include minimum 2 visits to monitor the compliance to conditions stipulated in the approval accorded for obtaining the forest clearance, which should include one post monsoon and one pre-monsoon visit accorded with a minimum gap of 5 months between two visits. The first visit be made within the first 6 weeks from starting of construction.

  2. For Projects after Construction (for all projects) - Once a year.

IV. Monitoring through Panel of Accredited Institutions/Individual Experts


What principles and criteria will be followed by MoEF for preparation of the panel of accredited institutions and experts should be discussed in details. Apart from this, a list of local NGOs and Civil Societies, Universities and Institutes should be identified, and if necessary, advertisements should be placed on websites to invite interested organisations/institutes/ individuals in monitoring.

The local NGOs, institutes or individuals should be given priority as they, more often than not, better informed of the local-issues and violations. The selection of such panel should be flexible and multiple panels should be prepared, subject to the availability of experts/NGOs/institutes. Each panel of experts can be given particular projects to monitor in an year and the same should be rotated among the panels every year to avoid any type of mutual agreements between the project proponent and the Panel members. 

If the panel wishes it should be able to conduct surprise-visits to the respective project sites, and if the panel members insist on more frequent visits, MoEF is requested to provide them with adequate administrative support to carry out such visit which can be as frequent as once-a week. Moreover, if the panel is capable of arranging the facilities on their own, and wish to conduct a visit to any of the project sites, MoEF is requested to kindly allow them to do so after they have been informed in advance.

V. Remote Sensing Satellite Based Monitoring

The information as mentioned in para 4.2.2.3.4. and sub-paras of the draft policy, should be made available through a web portal where user can see real-time monitoring data. The user should also be able to see the old maps and/or data generated, to compare and contrast the changing patterns over the years. This is necessary to ensure transparency and would help in securing evidence and taking action against the violators.

4. Identification of Forests

The geo-referenced district forest maps should be uploaded to the websites of concerned Regional Offices of MoEF. Links to websites of MoEF Regional Offices should also be placed on MoEF main website.

5. Few Other Suggestions

I. Verification and Inspection of land for Compensatory Afforestation

The issue of compensatory afforestation should be taken up more seriously and verification of lands identified for compensatory afforestation should be done in stricter way. MoEF should upload a map of all the area included under compensatory afforestation in each state with geo-coordinates through its regional offices. Same map can also be made available to state forest department's websites.

The same maps and details with all annexures should be uploaded to forest clearance website at least four weeks prior to the FAC meeting for consideration of the proposal. The site inspection reports of are identified for compensatory afforestation should be uploaded to the website within one week of completion of the report.

II. Monitoring of Compensatory Afforestation

A separate monitoring committee for ensuring effective compensatory afforestation should be set up which should include local NGOs and experts. The details of area, maps, progress-reports and any other information related to compensatory afforestation should be displayed on website of MoEF, if possible, a separate website should be launched for the same by MoEF.

III. Additional Guidelines Required

It is not clear from the draft policy which criteria, principle or guideline will be followed to decide the area as large, fragile or sensitive. Similar ambiguity pertains in categorisation of violations; where terms like 'gross', 'serious' are used. Thus, it is very important to define the principles based on which one can conclude upon the status of the area during inspection or verification.

IV. Monitoring Staff should be Expanded

With the increasing number of projects which include forest clearances, there is additional pressure on existing administration framework. Hence, there is a need of expanding the framework and appointment of more personnel and resources for ensuring quality monitoring. The draft policy, though mentions about appointment of full time officers for places having more projects, we believe a lot more needs to be done to enhance the existing mechanism.


Raghav Saraswat
For-Vindhyan Ecology and Natural History Foundation
Email: raghavsaraswat[a]gmail.com , raghav[a]vindhyabachao.org Mobile: +91-9013046359

Tags: Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Forest, Reviews & Critiques, Representations

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