The Indian government, clearly jolted by the armed standoff with China at Dokalam on the Sikkim border, has waived the requirement of environmental approval for defence infrastructure projects up to a distance of 100 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The waiver order was issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on 28 August, the day India and China decided to disengage in the Dokalam region, an Indian Express report said today.
The Army had in the past raised concerns over the slow pace of green clearances delaying key infrastructure projects, the report says. During the standoff too, concerns were raised about poor Army infrastructure in areas along the LAC for transporting forces and ammunition, even as China has successfully built roads and railway lines up to the LAC.
The environment ministry in 2014 gave 'general approval' under Section 2 of the Forest Conservation (Act), 1980, for use of forest land for construction and widening of a two-lane road by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and other road construction agencies entrusted with the job by the ministry of defence in areas falling within 100 km aerial distance of the LAC.
The latest order extends the general approval to military infrastructure projects like ammunition depots, barracks and logistics hubs, among others.
With this, the Army no longer needs approvals from the ministry's Forest Appraisal Committee (FAC) for using forest land for non-forest purposes. The time needed for forest approvals ranges from a minimum of three months to one year.
''Earlier, in 2014, we had given general approval for roads by BRO. Now, this general approval is extended to army infrastructure projects. How will we save the environment if the country is not safe?'' said an environment ministry official.
The 3,500-km LAC with China traverses five states - Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Skirmishes and minor stand-offs between the Indian Army and China's People's Liberation Army are common along the line, but the Dokalam stand-off was unusually protracted, triggered after China tried to build a road in territory which belongs to Bhutan and is strategically significant for India.
Minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju had informed Parliament in July that infrastructure development is happening at a steady pace along the LAC and that Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have set up empowered committees to sort out issues related to land acquisition, forest / wildlife clearance and allotment of quarries, among others.
The home ministry is also reviewing defence infrastructure development projects on a real-time basis and a steering committee under the secretary (border management) has been set up to monitor the progress of these projects.