The proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation Act could remove one of the most debilitating hurdles in the timely completion of border infrastructure projects.
Under the proposed amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act (FCA), agencies working on national security and border infrastructure projects may not require prior forest clearance from the Union government.
“Given the present scenario of obtaining approval for non-forestry use of forest land, many a time, strategic and security projects of national importance get delayed resulting in setback to development of such infrastructure at critical locations,” the document put out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), inviting comments and suggestions, reads.
“…such projects should be exempted from obtaining prior approval of Central Government under the provision of the Act and allow the States to permit non-forest use of forest land for implementation of such strategic and security projects that are to be completed in a given time frame,” it says under the sub-head “Issues for consultation”.
The document listing proposed amendment to the FCA is open for public discussion for the next 15 days, after which the MoEFCC will seek cabinet and parliamentary approval.
The Centre wants to make amendments to the FCA to streamline the provisions of the Act, the document says.
“…to effectively fit into the present circumstances, particularly for accelerated integration of conservation and development, it has become necessary to further amend the Act,” it reads.
The onerous requirements imposed by the FCA have in the past delayed critical border infrastructure projects, a fact that the Ministry of Defence has accepted and mentioned in its communications.
Responding to a question in Lok Sabha in July 2017, at the peak of the Doklam standoff with China, the then minister of state for defence, Dr Subhash Bhamre, had listed “delay in forest, wildlife, environment clearance” as one of the reasons for the slow progress in the construction of the India-China Border Roads project, under which India is building 73 roads along its norther border, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
Earlier, MoEFCC had accorded general approval under Section (2) of the FCA 1980 for diversion of forest land for construction and widening of border roads in the areas falling within 100 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
Given the deteriorating security situation along the LAC due to China’s recent misadventures all along the border, India will have to significantly increase the pace of construction of border roads.
Moreover, India is also planning to link Ladakh to the rest of the country through a rail line, and is also working on significantly improving railway connectivity in Arunachal. Hundreds of new roads, bridges and tunnels are also being planned to improve connectivity in border areas along the LAC to ease the movement of troops and equipment.
The proposed amendment could remove one of the most debilitating hurdles in the timely completion of border infrastructure projects.