By Nivedita Khandekar
New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS): Three months after its Guwahati office demanded a car in lieu of giving clearance of projects, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has revoked the demand.
As reported by IANS in November 2021, the Regional Empowered Committee (REC) at Guwahati that gave a conditional recommendation to a user agency for a transmission line from a hydropower project on Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border had demanded a vehicle for recommending forest clearance or granting forest clearance.
The REC Guwahati, an agency under MoEF&CC, had even specified that it should be a Toyota Innova in lieu of recommending forest clearance for a transmission line through a reserved forest for evacuating power from a hydropower project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.
When IANS had reported two separate cases, one from Assam/Arunachal Pradesh and another from Odisha in November 2021, sources from the MoEF&CC at Delhi had said, "The Ministry has not yet cleared the proposal. It is the REC that has given a recommendation. The forest clearance is not yet granted. We will not allow such illegal trade-offs."
Both proposals pertained to Power Grid Corporation of India, which had sought diversion of 34.32 Ha of forest land for construction of 400 KV transmission line from NHPC Ltd's 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Project at Gerukhamukh to Biswanath Chariali in Subansiri Reserve Forest under the Dhemaji Division in Assam and another for diverting 32.78 ha of forest land for transmission lines of the same project by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited.
The REC meeting on November 2 discussed the proposal wherein it recommended the proposal for diversion of 34.32 Ha of forest land with two special conditions apart from the other usual ones. One of them was: "The user agency Power Grid Corporation of India Limited will provide one vehicle (preferably Toyota Innova) to the Integrated Regional Office, Guwahati, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, for monitoring of projects in Assam and other official purposes."
Based on the REC recommendations to the MoEF&CC from November 2021 and additional letters from Assam government (one each for both projects) regarding the projects dated February 18 this year, the 'In Principle Approval' for stage I clearance of Central government was granted by the IG Forests in the Ministry with stipulated conditions on February 22. On fulfilment of the conditions, final (stage II) forest clearance would be approved, the letter to Assam said. There was no mention of the Toyota car in any of the letters.
The minutes of the meeting from last year after this issue came to the fore, said: "After detail deliberations and discussion with Deputy Conservator of Forest, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, and considering the reply of the State Government and importance of the proposal, the REC revoked the additional condition."
Similar lines were mentioned in the REC letters for both the projects with the mention of relevant clauses and numbers as mentioned in the earlier minutes of the meeting.
Sources said, the Ministry had sent out a stern message prompting the REC to take corrective steps. The REC's minutes of the meeting therefore now clearly mention that the condition wherein it was mentioned that Toyota car be provided for Guwahati office "stands revoked."