An expert panel of the environment ministry has agreed to let the Adani group use 1,552.81 hectares of forest land to develop its port-based Special Economic Zone on the Mundra coast in Gujarat, The Indian Express reported on Friday.

The Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd, which runs the Mundra Port, had requested 1,576.81 hectares of forest land for the SEZ. It said diverting the forest land was important as it needed “contiguous blocks of lands” to “facilitate proper area planning”.

But the Forest Advisory Committee did not allow Adani group access to 24 hectares of reserved forests in Dhrub village. At a meeting on January 25, the committee said it “deliberated on the fact that establishment of port-based SEZ is necessary for development of the country”. The minutes of the meeting state that most of the forest area being given to the Adani group was “under non-forestry use and some patches of forest areas are available inside SEZ”.

The committee said it was giving “in principle” approval after the state government told it that the Adani group had given an undertaking that it would follow the guidelines of the Forest Rights Rules, 2006, before getting final approval.

The Forest Advisory Committee, for its part, has set some conditions – the earmarked forest land should be maintained as a green area within the Special Economic Zone; it cannot be used to lay a golf course, beach resort, park, or for residential purposes or construction of a private aerodrome “as demanded by the user agency”. Besides, the committee said, giving away forest land for non-forestry uses will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the environment ministry.

The panel also asked the Adani group to ensure that Coastal Regulation Zone rules are followed, and to find land for compensatory afforestation at its own cost.

The Adani group’s Mundra port came under the scanner in 2017 after the Supreme Court appointed a committee to check whether the company had violated environmental rules by levelling sand dunes.