Forest land, non-froest use etc

All through the first quarter of 2007 media reported the conflict between the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Environment and Forests over the composition of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in the T N Godavarman case.The issue of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) continues to make headlines. Effort to define the expertise needed to oversee conversion of forest land into non-forest use remains unresolved.

Any activity that requires the diversion of forest land for non-forest has to get clearance by the Ministry under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980. In pursuance of the same the Ministry refers every proposal with complete documentation to the FAC prior to granting clearance. The committee takes a view on whether the forest land in question should be allowed to be diverted or not.

FAC is the highest Government-appointed advisory body that is responsible for all clearances related to any diversion of forest land for purposes like laying of roads, water/sewerage pipelines, power projects, dams etc. The Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court had recommended that certain people known among environmental groups having required expertise be made the members of FAC.

The debate arose when the Ministry questioned the expertise of the people suggested by the CEC and it proposed its own people as experts. This created a conflict between the Ministry and the Court. The latter stayed the reconstitution of the FAC. With about 300 development projects of "national importance" stalled because of the non-constitution of the FAC, the Supreme Court allowed the functioning of the existing FAC on 27th April, 2007 taking note of "utmost urgency." Earlier the court had asked the Ministry to consider including one of the nine environmentalists suggested by CEC as member of the FAC but the Ministry

FAC has to clear the proposal for the ministry to issue the requisite license. The stay on the FAC for the last five months had stopped new clearances for mining and industrial activities in forest land. The directive from the court came with a condition -all fresh cases examined by the FAC will be considered by the CEC. The final nod will come from the apex court based on the CEC's recommendations. The court laid down the road ahead for future clearances without vacating the stay.


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