The Forest Advisory Committee of the Jammu and Kashmir administration has granted clearances to 125 projects involving diversion of forest land for other purposes between August and October, environmental magazine Down To Earth reported on Monday.

“In the 117th meeting held on October 17, 2019, 41 projects were cleared [by the Forest Advisory Committee],” Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, commissioner secretary to the forest, environment and ecology department of Jammu and Kashmir, was quoted as saying. “In the 116th meeting, 54 projects were cleared and in the 115th meeting, 30 projects were cleared. These clearance recommendations will be sent to the J&K cabinet and then finalised.” These meetings were held between August and October.

The Indian government had abrogated special status for Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 under Article 370 of the Constitution, and imposed a curfew-like situation in the state. The restrictions are slowly being eased.

Jammu and Kashmir has a separate Forest Advisory Committee under the Jammu And Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997. The panel is headed by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, and its members are officials of departments such as forest, revenue, finance, soil and water conservation. The committee makes recommendations, which are accepted or rejected by the Jammu and Kashmir Cabinet.

However, since the state has been under President’s Rule, only the approval of Governor Satya Pal Malik is necessary to implement the recommendations.

Dwivedi did not share the full details of the projects to be implemented following clearance for diversion of forest land. However, he said that in the 117th meeting, around 271 hectares of forest land was decided to be diverted for development projects like laying of transmission lines and drilling of tube wells.

The number of clearances issued from August to October this year is higher than the total number of clearances issued last year. In 2018, just 97 clearances were issued in eight meetings.

However, forest rights advocacy platform Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy took objection to the clearances. “Diversion of forest land without the consent of local communities and gram sabhas cause violation of their forest rights,” Tushar Dash, a member of the organisation told Down To Earth. “This move comes at a time when there is a larger concern among the local communities over withdrawal of the constitutional protection of democratic rights including special protection to their land rights.”

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.