Forest destruction for industrial use doubled in 5 years: CSE

The Centre for Science and Environment, headed by one of India’s most vocal environmental activist Sunita Narain, has raised alarm at the increasing rate of destruction of India’s forests for industrial purposes.

Responding to an ‘open letter’ by industry leaders, the CSE pointed out that despite the projected image of increasing protection for the environment in recent years, the numbers tell a different story.

Quoting hard facts, Sunita Narain has questioned the contention expressed by some industrial leaders that environment protection is being promoted at the cost of development. On the contrary, she pointed out, the rate of destruction of India’s forests has accelerated in the last two years.

She pointed out that since 2007 alone, more than 2 lakh hectares of forest land has been handed over to industries such as mines and steel plants. India’s total forest area is around 65 lakh hectares.

“This diversion [in the last five years] is about 25 per cent of all forest land diverted for development projects since 1981. The pace of forest land diversion, therefore, doubled in the last five years,” Narain said.

‘Diverted’ forests are usually destroyed, though industries are often required to plant saplings at alternative areas to compensate for the destruction of trees.

CSE pointed out that far from being extra-cautious, the government was being liberal in giving forests to industries.

Alone in 2009 (when Jairam Ramesh took over as environment minister) – as much as 87,883.67 ha of forest land was granted clearance, CSE pointed out. The maximum amount of forest land diverted for mining in any single year happened in 2010 – about 14,500 hectares, it added.

She pointed out that despite such allocations and diversions, the results of the ground, measured in industrial growth, were disproportionately low.

She pointed out that the 11th Five Year Plan [2007-12] seeks to add just 50,000 megawatt (MW) of additional thermal power capacity in the country.

“In the past five years, till August 2011, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has granted environmental clearance to an astounding 210,000 MW of thermal power capacity — 60,000 MW more than what has been proposed till 2017. Worse, the capacity actually added in this period is a mere 32,394 MW,” Narain said in a statement.

Similarly, it pointed out that Coal India Limited (CIL), which produces over 90 per cent of India’s coal and has been allocated 0.5 lakh hectares of forests for mining, has nearly 64 billion tonnes of coal reserves already, but produces only 500 million tonnes per year.

“We would like to ask why, if there is so much capacity, cleared but not utilised, are companies asking for more clearances? Is this because they are valuing the land and water, and if we may say, asking for the license to pollute,” Narain asked.