Meghalaya adds clause to amendment defining forest

With an aim to counter destruction of greens in mineral-rich Meghalaya, the state cabinet today defined “forest” as a continuous tract of minimum four hectares of land having more than 250 naturally growing trees.

The move came in the wake of anti-graft activists demanding compensation from cement companies set up in limestone-rich Jaintia Hills district for their alleged gross violation of the Forest Act, 1980 for mining on forest areas taken on lease from local indigenous tribals.

Approving the Meghalaya Forest Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2012, Forest Minister Prestone Tynsong said the amendment adds another clause wherein forest area is clearly defined.

However, the cabinet has set aside lands used for traditional agriculture by the tribal population irrespective of the density of vegetation growing on it while stating that all recorded forests of the state government or the autonomous district councils would remain so irrespective of the size and number of trees.

Meghalaya, with an inferred reserve of more than 4000 million tones of limestone, has attracted more than 10 cement companies which are operational within the state and outside the country.

A high powered committee of the state government headed by J P Prakash had, in its report to the state government “confirmed” that there were ample evidences to indicate that the cement plants have been set up in forest areas in the district.

The Opposition National People’s Party (NPP) had demanded the government to stop all cements plants from operation in Jaintia Hills district alleging that it was “illegal” besides demanding a compensation in line with which the Supreme Court imposition on Lafarge Umiam Pvt Ltd.

A local NGO had also filed a PIL in the Gauhati High Court seeking the Court’s intervention for alleged “gross violation” of Forest Act, 1980 by these cement companies operating in Jaintia Hills for mining on forest areas taken on lease from local indigenous tribals.