GUWAHATI, Feb 20 � In a significant development, the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) today restrained all agencies involved in linear projects (railway lines, roads, canals and power lines) from felling trees and diverting forest land for non-forest purpose unless the approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980 was obtained.
This stand of the NGT came in view of the violation of the FCA by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The NGT order came in the wake of the Milind Pariwakam and Others vs Union of India case.
The MoEFCC, by two letters (8-8-2014 and 15-1-2015) sent to all State governments, had stipulated a �simplified procedure� in respect of linear projects and directed that the �in-principle approval� granted under the FCA, 1980 should be considered as an approval for �felling of trees� and �commencement of work� and there is no requirement to wait for final approval under the FCA for undertaking these two activities.
The five-judge bench of the NGT, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, stayed the operation of the two MoEFCC letters, said Milind Pariwakam, a wildlife biologist who filed the application before the NGT in this connection.
Pariwakam had contended that the said relaxation given by the MoEFCC is contrary to the procedure prescribed in the FCA, 1980, wherein it is clearly stated that only�after final approval and order under FCA,�trees can be felled and that �in-principle� approval is not an approval as contemplated in law, since the FCA, 1980 does not mention of �in-principle approval�. Further, there is no purpose in waiting for the final approval since both felling of trees and commencement of work would have taken place based on the �in-principle� approval.
Remarkably, the MoEFCC itself has consistently taken a view before the NGT that �in-principle approval� is not an approval for felling of trees. However, the recent letters of the MoEFCC are directly contrary to the earlier view taken by the Ministry and the statutory provisions.
It was also contended by the applicant that the entire aim of issuing the two letters was to escape scrutiny by the NGT, since an appeal before the NGT can only be filed after final approval is granted.