The FAC — a statutory body of experts under the Forest Conservation Act —examines projects seeking diversion of forest land with regard to impact on ecology and decides whether it should be allowed. Its recommendations are not binding on the ministry.
The project of GMR Energy Limited is planned in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
The committee had refused permission to the project on the ground that any development in the area will lead to “irreversible” damage to ecology and wildlife.
On May 30, the committee observed that the project is located in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers. “Both are UNESCO's World Heritage Sites,” the committee said.
It referred to a report by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, which said allowing the project will “seriously hamper” the movement of species such as the snow leopard and the brown bear.
In October, when the proposal was again brought for the consideration of the FAC, it refused approval, saying the Uttarakhand government has failed to bring any new facts necessitating revision of the May decision.
But on November 8, the environment ministry gave in-principle approval to the project without mentioning reasons for overruling the FAC’s decision. “After careful examination of the project, the central government hereby accords stage-I approval for diversion of forestland,” read the approval letter by HC Chaudhury, assistant inspector general of forest.
The letter has stipulated 25 conditions, only one of which is on wildlife, which says that the project proponent shall ensure that no damage is caused to the wildlife.
Most of the conditions laid out are regarding compliance of various government rules and regulations and does not say how the fragile ecosystem will be protected. The letter also says after receiving the compliance report of the 25 conditions, the Centre will issue the final approval.