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Maharashtra has lost huge chunk of forest to wind power projects

Maharashtra lost the second largest chunk of forest land to wind power projects, reveals a report released by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Wednesday.

Data of environment and forests ministry states that 88% of the 3,932 hectares of diverted forest land in India since 1980 for 72 projects from Karnataka (57%) and Maharashtra (31%). Land was diverted without environment impact assessment (EIA) studies, CSE said.

These diversions don’t include forest land used to construct roads and transmission lines to and from project sites.

At present, companies don’t conduct EIA studies as these projects are not covered under the EIA 2006 notification; studies are done only when agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank fund the setting up of turbines.

“Our analysis shows that forest land, including in ecologically sensitive areas such as wildlife sanctuaries, has been diverted without EIA studies,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

“We recommend strict green norms for wind power projects.” Bhushan said linear fragmentation – the building of roads and transmission lines – has the biggest impact on forests, wildlife and water bodies.

Linear fragmentation has led to elephant-human conflict in Karnataka, he added.

The report shows that diversion of forest land has increased from 478 hectares between 1980 and 2006 for projects with 4,351MW installed capacity to 3,454 hectares between April 2006 and March 2013 for projects generating 14,701MW.

The analysis shows that in-principle approvals took less than one month and the average time for final clearance was 7.5 months.

EIAs are mandatory for wind power projects in countries such as Sri Lanka, China, US, Netherlands and Germany.

“EIA should be done and we must develop our own practices rather than adopt global practices,” said Chintan Shah, vice-president and head, strategic business development, Suzlon Energy.