Kolkata: Over 20,000 hectares of forest area – about the size of Kolkata – was given clearance for developmental and industrial projects like mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation in the past three years. Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are the top three states with highest forest diversion. The data was revealed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Parliament. Altogether, 20,314.12 hectares of forest land was diverted in three years 2015-2018 (till December 13, 2018). The government received a total of 4,552 proposals during this period, with 1,280 (28.11 percent) being given the green light.
Forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes, according to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. To make up for the land, the government collects money which is used by the authorities for afforestation.
Conflict over land rights has amplified in India over the past decade as land is sought for development projects and industrial use to complement the country’s fast-growing economy.
However, the ministry officials say this is untrue. “Many proposals are in different stages of approval. Contrary to popular belief, the ministry is very sensitive to giving clearance for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes,” said an environment ministry official on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Telangana topped the list of states with the highest forest diversion with 5,137.38 hectares of forest land diverted, subsequently Madhya Pradesh and Odisha diverting 4,093.38 hectares and 3,386.67 hectares of forest area respectively. The three states account for over 62 per cent (12,617.43 hectares) of the total forest land diverted during the said three-year period.