Making forests vulnerable
Jammu and Kashmir has been losing its forest cover at a very fast pace. Not only is a wanton loot of the forest reserves going on across the state but the government too is contributing its share.
Under the garb of development numerous projects have been cleared in the state just to ensure that the projects involving forest land get approval and work on these projects is set in motion.
Just during the past few weeks the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) cleared a record 125 projects involving diversion of forest land between August and October 2019.
The FAC which held its 117th meeting last week, cleared 41 projects. This was the body’s last meeting before the forest clearance process will shift to Chandigarh, the regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment,
Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), after October 31, when the presidential order reading Article 370 down will come into effect.
The 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. The cleared projects and the clearance
recommendations will be sent to the cabinet and then finalized.
Notably, J&K has its own FAC under the Jammu And 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 that are then accepted by the J&K cabinet.
Clearing forest land for developmental schemes in nothing new but the pace by which these projects are being cleared has set alarm bells ringing. If the records are anything to prove, then around 271 hectares of forest land
has been diverted in the 117th meeting for various development projects, like laying transmission lines, construction of access points and drilling tube wells, besides other works.
The number of clearances given in the last three meetings of the FAC is greater than the total number of clearances awarded in 2018. In the eight meetings of the FAC held in 2018, the body approved forest clearance for 97
projects, against the 125 clearances approved in just three meetings since August this year.
Clearing forest land for developmental activities as such a fast pace has led to many speculations especially in the absence of the application of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of
Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the state.
Development is welcome, but the way the government is moving ahead it shows the intent behind the move. The government in such cases needs to tread on cautiously as the decisions are being taken at a time when there is a
larger concern among the locals over withdrawal of the constitutional protection of democratic rights including special protection to the land rights.