States may now be allowed exemption from compulsory afforestation in lieu of land acquired for industry if its forest area exceeds 33% of the total land area. Currently, this leeway is available to a state only if its forest area was above 50% of the total land.
The relaxation from compulsory afforestation is given by the Centre on the basis of a certificate issued by the state chief secretary, citing non-availability of land for the purpose. The new move would come in handy for power and coal projects in acquiring forest land.
When the chief secretary issues such a certificate, a project developer is exempt from providing land for afforestation in lieu of the acquired forest land. The developer also has the option of paying money equivalent to double the value of the acquired land.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar has agreed to support required policy changes following a request from power minister Piyush Goyal during a recent interaction. Accordingly, Javadekar asked the power ministry to move a Cabinet note to this effect.
This is a bold policy move given that the government auditor had rapped the Madhya Pradesh government for allowing a similar concession to Reliance Power's Sasan ultra mega power project.
Further, the environment minister has also agreed to take a fresh look, in consultation with the law ministry, at the existing policy that stipulates that environmental clearance for power projects based on captive coal blocks should be issued only when the first stage forest clearance for the mine is in place.
Goyal also requested the environment minister to amend the policy guidelines to bring private developers at par with Power Grid Corporation, the central transmission utility, under compensatory afforestation guidelines.
If the request is accepted by Javadekar, private transmission project developers would be exempted from providing alternative land for seeking forest clearance and can instead comply with guidelines by paying compensation.