With state under a communications blackout, the J&K FAC has worked with stealth, issuing record forest clearances
Since August 5, the day Article 370 was abrogated in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the state has cleared 125 projects on forest land in just three meetings. Was this the hidden agenda, then of the Modi regime?
Down to Earth reports that the FAC of J&K actually gave clearances to 125 projects involving diversion of forest land between August and October 2019.
At its 117th meeting, the FAC cleared 41 projects. This was also the last meeting of the body, before the forest clearance process shifted to Chandigarh, the regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) after October 31, when the presidential order abrogating Article 370 will come into force.
“In the 117th meeting held on October 17, 2019, 41 projects were cleared. In the 116th meeting, 54 projects were cleared and in the 115th meeting, 30 projects were cleared by the FAC,” Manoj Kr Dwivedi, commissioner secretary to the forest, environment and ecology department of the state of J&K, told DTE. “These clearance recommendations will be sent to the J&K cabinet and then finalised,” he added.
J&K has its own FAC, under the Jammu & Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997. The committee is headed by the chief secretary of the J&K government as the chairman, with officials of departments like forest, revenue, finance, soil and water conservation as members.
The committee makes recommendations, which are then purportedly accepted by the J&K cabinet. However, while Dwivedi declined to share the details of the area of forest land diverted or the nature of projects, media reports have said that around 271 hectares of forest land was diverted in the 117th meeting for various development projects like laying of transmission lines, drilling of tube wells and others. It will be curious to see if the regime’s favourite corporate honchos, the Ambanis and Adanis will be the major beneficiaries.
The speed of the clearances is staggering: the total number of clearances given in these last three meeting of the FAC are more than the total number of clearances given in 2018. In the eight meetings of the FAC held in 2018, the body approved the forest clearance of 97 projects, as opposed to the 125 clearances approved in just three meetings since August.
Under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, any diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes like building infrastructure or mining has to be pre-approved by the FAC set up under the MoEF&CC. In J&K, the law governing diversion of forest land is the J&K Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997. Under it, forest land diversion takes place on the resolution of the cabinet, based on the recommendation of the state FAC.
Now, objections are being raised to the diversions in the absence of the application of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the state. “Diversion of forest land without the consent of local communities and gram sabhas cause violation of their forest rights. This move comes at a time when there is a larger concern among the local communities over withdrawal of the constitutional protection of democratic rights including special protection to their land rights,” Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA), a forest rights advocacy platform of activists and experts, told DTE.