HOUSE PANELS EASE COMPENSATION RULES FOR PROJECTS USING UP FOREST LAND
KATHMANDU, April 4: Project developers no longer have to worry about purchasing an equal area of arable private land to compensate for forest lands acquired for the projects. Following a rigorous discussion, a joint meeting of three deifferent parliamentary committees on Sunday decided to relax this strict provision in order to facilitate development projects. But this decision is only applicable for national pride projects and other priority projects. Project developers can either provide land in compensation or pay the minimum price of forest land set by the government and the cost of developing the replacement forest. This is a part of the policy of keeping the total forested acerage in the country intact. This fresh decision has superceded a directive of the erstwhile Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Means of four years ago, which had endorsed a provision requiring any forest land occupied by a project or an investor to be compensated with an equal amount of land in the same kind of ecology, and forests developed in that land.
The project developer had to plant 25 trees for each tree damaged by the project, although in the case of hydropower projects the number of trees planted could be a minimum of two for each tree damaged. Parliament's Agriculture and Water Resource Committee (AWRC), Environment Conservation Committee and Development Committee had formed a joint committee to sort out constraints in development projects and also facilitate the work of investors. Chairman of Agriculture and Water Resources Committee Gagan Thapa said that the decision of the erstwhile Committee on Natural Resources and Means had sought to check a growing trend of encroaching forests for minor purposes, such as putting up community buildings and schools.
"An all party meeting of local leaders used to decide about encroaching the forests for minor purposes," said Thapa adding, however, that this decision became a stumbling block when it came to mega projects and national pride projects. "The tast of project developers and investors has been further relaxed as tree planting and growing of forests should rather be seen to by any entity of the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation or be outsourced to the private sector," added Thapa. MoFSC has been asked to prepare guidelines for the purpose and designate an entity for the forest management. However, the parliamentary committees have said that the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation cannot take the money collected from project developers and use it in other areas. It should be spent only on forest development. Speaking at the meeting, Rabindra Adhikari, chairman of the development committee, said that it was more important to work in a local context for implementing development projects than just having strict environmental and forest conservation laws. The government has a policy of maintaining 40 percent of the total land area as forests. A recent study has revealed that forest areas cover 44.74 percent of the land. Janak Lal Chaudhary, chair of the Enviornment Conservation Committee, has stressed the need to balance enviornment conservation with development work.