J&K govt stops forest clearance approval

The Jammu and Kashmir government has temporarily stopped forest clearance approval for over 200 development projects after experts raised concern that deforestation as the main cause of last year’s devastating floods.

Official documents revealed that 215 proposed development projects in the state, most of which are road-related, are awaiting forest department’s clearance. Out of those, 120 were submitted by the PWD (Roads and Buildings), 68 under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and 27 by the irrigation and flood control department. Under the J&K Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997, an advisory committee, headed by the chief secretary, takes a call on diversion of forest land for public utilities. A senior official said the committee took into account the experts’ take on deforestation leading to floods and cloudbursts and hence might delay clearance.

Rakesh Kumar Gupta, Principal Secretary (Forest Department), said the departments’ delay in submitting the requisite information also led to pending cases. Jammu and Kashmir lost some of its most virgin forest cover, comprising coniferous trees like spruce, pine, fir and woodlands of deodar cedar, walnut, pillow, elm and poplar, in five years.

In 2012, the government gave nod to projects for which 215 hectares were diverted; in 2013, 414 hectares were converted for non-forest use.

Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen, head of the Assurances Committee of Assembly, was worried over the working of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).

 An RTI reply vide 642-45/Acctt-5 by DFO, Langate, Kashmir, to this correspondent said during 2013-2014, the division purchased an LED for Rs 66,000, two laptops for Rs 70,000 besides spending Rs 1 lakh on furniture, Rs 1 lakh on miscellaneous expenses and Rs 1.5 lakh on repair/renovation from CAMPA funds.

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