Flouting green norms cannot be condoned
According to a report in this newspaper, the state has granted approvals to 790 projects involving the diversion of strip forest land for approach roads to provide access to roadside amenities such as retail stores, petrol pumps, and wedding halls.
Haryana has historically struggled in protecting its environmental resources. According to the Forest Survey of India’s 2021-22 report, the state has a forest cover of 3.63%. Despite this low cover — a handicap in an era of climate shocks — the state appears to prioritise revenue generation by pushing the mining, realty and infrastructure sectors, instead of by balancing the needs of the economy and the environment. A new episode has now been added to this saga. According to a report in this newspaper, the state has granted approvals to 790 projects involving the diversion of strip forest land for approach roads to provide access to roadside amenities such as retail stores, petrol pumps, and wedding halls. The clearances were based on a clause for general approval in the guidelines issued by the Centre in 2019. But this clause was about approvals only till December 31, 2019, after which the Centre’s approval was mandatory for such projects — a fact that Haryana ignored.
One would have thought that this lapse would be enough for the environment ministry to take action; instead, as the HT report says, the ministry is considering granting retrospective forest clearance approvals to these roads. Other than the environmental impact of removing trees and strip plantations — which tackles wind and soil erosion, improves water filtration, retains soil moisture, and boosts soil fertility — such post-facto clearances set a bad precedent because they undermine an already stressed regulatory structure and indicate that ways can be found around regulations deemed inconvenient for infrastructure development. At a time when India’s environmental legacy is facing challenges from population growth, urbanisation and national security requirements, the Union environment ministry must send out a clear message that flouting regulatory norms will not be accepted. It must not grant retrospective approval.