NEW GOVERNMENT RETARDS CONSERVATION POLICIES - 6th November 2014

Vijay Pinjarkar

NAGPUR: The new BJP government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis, has been urged to reverse the previous decision of the Democratic Front ((DF) led by Prithviraj Chavan) dispensation to exempt the state from paying net present value (NPV) money for de-notification of (removing protection from) 86,409 hectare (864 sq.km) forest land from Vidarbha for 'developmental projects'.

Lands in Vidarbha came under the definition of 'forest' as made by the Supreme Court and hence was subject to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) 1980.

The land that will be freed is just under four times the size of Nagpur city which is approximately 227 sq kms. The populist decision was taken by Chavan on March 5, 2014 just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Drawing the attention of the Chief Minister Fadnavis and Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, former member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Kishor Rithe, in a letter on Wednesday, has said that the previous government had taken a decision to de-reserve 86,409 hectares of jungle land from Vidarbha in one-go and had requested the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) to exempt the state from paying Rs3,785 crore towards the net present value (NPV) for change in land status.

(What is NPV?
It is the amount a project proposer has to pay to the government in lieu of forest land that will be lost. In this case, Rs3,785 crore (1 crore = 10 million rupees) would have been contributed by different development project proposers for the lands they are getting in Vidarbha)

"Though the NPV money is deposited with the Central government, it usually comes back to the state with the condition that it should be spent on forest conservation. Vidarbha gets a major share of this amount due to its significant forest cover," said Rithe.

"This land is a major chunk of forest although fragmented to some extent. Loss of these 'forest lands' will end the possibility of creating new forest on this land. However, fragmented and degraded forest lands can only be de-notified in lieu of notifying reserve forest adjacent to protected areas (PAs) or good forest cover to compensate. “Exempting such land from NPV will jeopardize forest protection and conservation,” said Debi Goenka of Conservation Action Trust (CAT), Mumbai.

Rithe says if the earlier decision is not reverted, Vidarbha will not only lose forest land but also Rs3,785 crore NPV.

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