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| Last Updated:14/06/2019

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Experts: Expediting env clearance doesn’t increase forest cover


Nagpur | April 10, 2019: Even as both BJP and Congress party manifestoes have made tall promises about saving environment, forests and wildlife habitats, experts have ridiculed claims of both the parties criticizing them for diverting vast tracks of forest land damaging ecology.


Top experts ridiculed BJP claims that fast-tracking environment clearance (EC) has led to increase in forest cover by 9,000sqkm in the country during the last five years. However, referring to latest India State of Forest Report-2017, Green Planet Society founder Suresh Chopne pointed out, “If 9,526sqkm of very dense forest (VDF) increased, there was decrease in moderate dense forest (MDF) by 4,421sqkm. BJP has diverted huge forest land even in tiger and elephant corridors during its term.”


“Both the parties are doing lip-service for environment protection. It is really foolish to say that due to expediting, EC forest cover has increased by 9,000sqkm. EC is to keep checks and balances to safeguard environment and not to damage it,” says wildlife biologist Aditya Joshi.


“Forests play important role in nature to maintain environmental balance. Yet, no political party assured to protect minimum forest land. Since Independence, forests have been diverted rampantly to develop vote banks. In Maharashtra, failed plantations has decreased forest cover,” says conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar.


Environmentalist Debi Goenka says BJP’s statement that diversion of forest lands has led to increase in forest cover is tenacious. “A more acceptable statement would be that they would stop granting EC to all projects in the shortest possible time. BJP’s track record in protecting environment has been deplorable,” he said.


“It has relaxed CRZ notification and given freedom to builders to destroy our environment. No credible steps have been taken to clean up our air or our water. Both these parties should be held up to their promises if they win,” Goenka said.


Pushp Jain of EIA Resource & Response Centre, Delhi, agrees with Goenka. “The Centre vide a notification on November 14, 2018, delegated powers to ensure compliance of EC conditions to local bodies in respect of building/construction projects with built-up area of 20,000 sqmt to 50,000 sqmt, along with building permission. Earlier, this fell under the preview of environmental law,” Jain said.


If manifestoes of both parties are compared, Chopne says, Congress promised to increase forest cover from present 20% to 25%, but parties are non-committal on tiger and wildlife protection. “We need to halt forest diversions for mines and linear projects,” he adds.


“The Congress manifesto is more environment-friendly which talks of bringing National Environmental Appraisal & Monitoring Authority (NEAMA), a professional agency to conduct rigorous and timebound environmental appraisals,” says Goenka.


“The BJP manifesto also calls for turning of National Clean Air Plan into a mission, focusing on 102 most polluted cities in the country. The party aims to reduce overall pollution in all the mission cities by at least 35% in the coming five years. Clean air and water are most vital things that we need for our survival and it would be great if these measures are actually put into place. We also need to get into renewable energy in a big way,” says Satpuda Foundation president Kishor Rithe.


The BJP is also eyeing tribal vote bank and in bid to lure them forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar promised that BJP will try to remove the stringent condition of proof of three generations needed to get ‘pattas’ under FRA. “This is BJP’s anti-forest stand. Many residents are not getting rights due to absence of proof that they are in possession of lands for at last 3 generations,” says Uday Patel, honorary warden of Gadchiroli.