New Delhi: A leading NGO Friday claimed that the Environment Ministry was approving projects in forest areas at an "unprecedented speed" and was giving clearance to projects which were "held in abeyance by diluting clauses".
Environmentalist Sunita Narain-headed Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) also claimed that the trajectory of granting forest clearances has gone up significantly since January this year -- whopping rise of more than 70 per cent in clearances.
When contacted, a senior Environment Ministry official refuted the claim, saying the NGO was speaking about the projects cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) or by the Group of Ministers (GoMs). Role of the Prime Minister-chaired CCI is to expedite decisions on approvals for implementation of major infrastructure projects.
According to the CSE, latest information available as per Environment Ministry's own records indicates that since 1981, just after the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (1980), a total of 23,140 projects have been granted clearance across the country.
This constitutes an approval of more than 75 per cent, with only about six per cent rejections, it says.
Chandra Bhushan, CSE Deputy Director General said: "Our analysis shows the trajectory of granting forest clearances remains very high. Since January 2013, there has been an over 70 per cent rise in clearances granted.
"A mere three per cent projects have been rejected. This completely nullifies industry's contention that environmental norms are being used to hold back industrial projects."
The CSE said that a "desperate rush" on the part of the ministry to grant clearances is not just evident through the granting of clearances to fresh proposals, but also where projects that have earlier been denied a clearance or were held in abeyance are being cleared by diluting clauses.
"While granting these clearances, the CSE team finds, the Environment Ministry has overlooked gross violations of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act-- these violations had been duly noted by the ministry's Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which decides on the clearances," it said.