In a latest onslaught on the ecology, India’s environment ministry has exempted thirteen railway projects from compulsive forest approval.
This means that all of the thirteen railway project have been passed despite the fact that they have not got approval from the forest department or do not fall in sync with the ecological considerations that are important to be considered for any developmental project.
The thirteen railway projects concerned are worth Rs 19,400 crore and spread over 800 hectares of land. These projects have been exempted from otherwise compulsive forest permits.
The fact remains that due to this exemption and negation of ecological considerations, these projects will have severe ramifications for the ecology and will adversely impact national parks, tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and elephant corridors located in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa.
The railway ministry said that this land was owned by the railways before 1980 and this was also the year when the Forest Conservation Act was passed. This implied that the act was not applicable to this piece of land and therefore they did not require permission from any external authority.
The act is question makes it mandatory that any forest land can only be used with due permission. It prohibits any activity on forest land without the prior approval of the central government.
In common parlance, this entire process of acquiring the compulsive nod is known as ‘Forest Clearance.’
In May 2019, the ministry of environment said that in any state, the FCA would not apply for doubling the track or gauge conversion projects incase the land belonged to the railways and had been under non-forest use prior to the 1980S.
However it had also said that projects that required new construction would need to apply for forest clearance.
The fact that these extensive projects have been passed without seeking clearance of the concerned forest departments means that there would be no scrutiny or due diligence before diverting forests for other uses. Without a scrutiny or due examination it cannot be known what the unintended impact on the wildlife are or what the implications of the cutting down of the forests will be.
It is estimated that four out of the thirteen approved projects would fragment either a national park/a tiger reserve or a wildlife sanctuary.