Centre may revise forest zones rules to expand mining

The National Democratic Alliance government is reviewing the process of identifying “inviolate” forest zones in order to free up more mines for production of coal, iron and manganese ore that are required to boost the economy.

During the review — details of which have been kept under wraps — experts are looking at the recommendations made by a ministerial panel in 2012 while determining the criterion for marking a patch of forest land as an “inviolate” area where mining would never be permitted.

Set up during the United Progressive Alliance regime, the previous panel, headed by former environment secretary T R Chatterjee used six parameters to determine an inviolate zone. These were: Forest type, biological richness, wildlife value, forest cover, landscape integrity and hydrological value.

The infrastructure ministries were upset with the panel’s suggestions but could not do much. After the change of guard in Delhi, the Coal Ministry asked Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar to have a re-look at those suggestions.

The ministry asked the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India to do the review and there are now unconfirmed reports suggesting that FSI has recommended prohibition of coal mining in 11 per cent of forest areas, leaving almost 90 per cent of forest areas, open to commercial exploitation.

FSI is believed to have struck down two of those six criteria used by the Chatterjee panel. It clubbed biological richness with wildlife and hydrological values with forest type to find out more space for mining. Mining would not be permitted in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

When asked, FSI Director-General Anmol Kumar, however, denied sending such a report to the ministry. “I have no idea from where this has cropped up. The FSI has not sent any such report to the ministry,” Kumar said.

As it has been now left to Javadekar to take a call, he has asked a high level panel to review Indian Forest Act, 1927, that defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a reserved forest, a protected forest or a village forest.

This high level panel, chaired by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, was asked to review five green laws. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, was added later to the list. The panel will meet in Delhi for the next two days to hear individuals and institutions.

India’s total forest and tree cover increased marginally between 2011 and 2013 to cover 24.01 per cent of the total geographical area. This includes a marginal increase of 31 sq km in very dense forest cover (more than 70 per cent forest cover), loss of 1991 sq km of moderately dense forest and enhancement of 7,831 sq km of open forest.

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