Correspondence between Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister and Ministry of Environment and Forests with regard to waiver of the July 2009 Advisory on FRA compliance before Forest Clearances

Correspondence between Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister and Ministry of Environment and Forests with regard to waiver of the July 2009 Advisory on FRA compliance before Forest Clearances

In August 2009, to strengthen the compliance to the FRA provisions, the Forest Ministry issued an advisory that before recommending clearances to diversion of forest lands for any projects, no-objection-certificates from the Gram Sabha or General body of the affected villages are mandatory. The circular also asked for proof whether proceedings under the FRA 2006 had been completed in those villages. Since most forest diversion proposals received by the Ministry’s recommending body, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), ignored the August 2009 circular in April 2012 the FAC again stated that the 2009 circular would have to be complied with by the State governments. This was also specifically stated for Hydropower and dam projects from Himachal seeking forest clearances. Some of these projects included the World Bank funded 775 MW Luhri Hydropower, the controversial Renuka Dam and GMR’s 180 MW Bajoli-Holi Project which were awaiting forest diversion clearance. It is important to note that all these projects are facing local agitations or have been challenged in courts by affected people.

It was in the context of the delay being caused to these and other project’s clearances that in September 2011 and then again in April 2012, the then Chief Minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal wrote letters to Jayanthi Natrajan specifically stating that the rights of the forest dwellers have already been “settled” under the 1971 Forest Settlement. The letters also suggested that a certificate issued by the District Collector’s stating that there were no FRA compliance issues would be submitted by the State government instead of the mandatory NOCs. On 20th September 2012, the MoEF wrote to the Principal Secretary, Himachal Pradesh stating that the conditions ordered by the Ministry in relation to FRA compliance before according forest clearances to projects would be waived off for the state. Certificates of ‘no pending claims under the FRA 2006’ issued by the DC, are now officially recognised by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, in the case of Himachal Pradesh, as “sufficient evidence”.