Maharashtra: Digging norms eased for gas pipelines along roads
Now, they have been included in the list. This also means that MoEFCC has exempted these projects from compensatory afforestation (CA)
Nagpur: The ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) has now further eased digging for underground compressed natural gas (CNG), piped natural gas (PNG) and slurry pipelines along the roads.
Earlier, under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, laying of optical fibre cables (OFCs), telephone lines, drinking water supply pipelines, and electricity cables was allowed but not PNG/CNG and slurry pipelines. This meant they had to get separate clearances and also follow compensatory afforestation norms.
Now, they have been included in the list. This also means that MoEFCC has exempted these projects from compensatory afforestation (CA). Instead, in case laying such pipelines involves felling of any trees, the user agency will have to plant 10 trees for each tree marked for removal in consultation with the local forest department.
On July 27, 2020, MoEFCC issued an advisory in this regard. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended that CA may not be levied in case of all such pipelines within the right of way of existing roads with trench size not more than two metres in depth and one metre in width. This would be applicable to roads not falling in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
“After a representation from Punjab government, where CNG/PNG projects are being implemented on large scale, MoEFCC made amends. Till now Baroda, Pune, Mumbai and a few other cities had implemented such projects. Punjab and Haryana are also biggest wheat and rice producing states and are going in for biofuel from husk which would be transported in slurry form,” said Chandigarh regional MoEFCC officials.
Environment lawyer Manish Jeswani said, “Trend of according general approvals for projects carrying out non-forest activity on forest land is dilution of FCA and rules. The exemption of compensatory afforestation (CA) seems to have been taken to benefit user agencies. Who will monitor whether the agency is digging trench of same size as specified by the MoEFCC and number of trees felled and compensated?”
“Not only CA condition, another relaxation is that in case the proposed area falls in the Right of Way of the road passing through national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, general approval is subject to prior permission from the state board for wildlife (SBWL) and the agencies now need not go to NBWL or NTCA,” said Jeswani.
“Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, clearly prohibits destruction inside national parks and sanctuaries and therefore permitting such projects without wildlife clearance poses threat to wildlife and habitat,” he added.
The extension of concession may appear a reasonable step because it comes with a rider of user agency having to plant 10 trees for each one they fell. The loophole is that nobody has been enjoined to monitor whether those trees are actually planted. Given the history of default in this area by all agencies, it is almost a given that no trees would be planted. The concession will mean another step towards environmental degradation.