- BIBEK SUBEDI, Kathmandu
Jun 9, 2016- The government has failed to implement a Parliamentary committee directive on simplifying acquisition of forest land for infrastructure projects. A joint meeting of Agriculture and Water Resources and Development Committees on April 3 had directed the Forest Ministry to put in place a legal provision within a month under which infrastructure projects can acquire forest land by paying a certain amount. The amount, which will be determined by the ministry, will be used to develop a new forest area equivalent to the deforested area. Currently, project developers have to buy an equivalent area of the acquired forest land in surrounding places and hand it over to the government.
Although the deadline given by the committees has crossed by over a month now, the ministry it yet to adopt such a provision. Rabindra Adhikari, chairman of the Parliamentary Development Committee, said the ministry’s failure to put in place such a provision is a prime example of our government’s apathy towards infrastructure development. “This shows that our system is not accountable,” he said. “We will soon ask the government authorities concerned to be present before the committee and give an answer,” he said. The Forest Ministry, however, said they have already prepared the directive and forwarded it to the Law and Finance Ministries for their approval before presenting it to the Cabinet. “We took some time to draft the directive as we had to carry out detailed consultation with senior officials. But we have already done our job,” said Uday Chandra Thakur, secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. “Once, we get approval from the line ministries, we will present it to the Cabinet.” The directive, if it comes on time will offer relief to hydropower projects like Upper Karnali and Arun III and other projects like Nijgadh International Airport as they are in the process of acquiring forest land. The 900MW Upper Karnali has an urgency to acquire 207.75 hectares of forest land as it has to complete the land acquisition process before the financial closure due on September 2016. “The delay in bringing the directive is affe- cting the financial closure,” said a source at Investment Board Nepal. “We hope the directive will come soon.” SJVN, the developer of 900MW Arun III hydropower project, is also complaining about difficulties in buying private land plots for the government in return of the acquired forest land. The project has so far acquired 5.01 hectares of forest land, for which it has already handed over an equivalent area to the government.