By: Mahesh Chander Sharma:
Sundernagar: Hinting at what may turn to be a major scandal in land allotment for mega projects in Himachal Pradesh, a patwari in Maloh patwar circle of Sundernagar sub-division in Mandi district had been found to have leased out forest land situated at village Nalni in favour of Harish Cement Ltd, which will be executing the proposed cement plant near Sundernagar, in violation of mandatory provisions of Forest Conservation Act.
The then patwari of Maloh had entered in his daily diary vide no. 254, dated 9-4-2010 that the land which has been recorded in the name of government of Himachal Pradesh, situated at Muhal Nalni, Khasra No. 173, the specification of which is ‘Chargah Vila Darktan’, has been leased out in favour of Harish Cement Ltd.
According to present patwari of Maloh, Khub Ram, the daily diary was written by previous patwari Ganga Singh (who has retired now). He further claimed that no order has been annexed with the record available with him which can show how the land was leased out. As per the provisions of Forest Conservation Act-1980, no forest land can be given or leased out to anyone for non-forest purpose without prior approval of the Central Government.
Office of the DFO, Sundernagar, confirmed that neither the case to divert the present forest land for non-forest purpose was moved, nor any permission to lease out forest land was received from the DFO office. It was further confirmed that the present land was at a different place than the mining area which has been already diverted in principal to the project authorities.
DFO Sundernagar BK Babu said that no forest land could be diverted by any agency without complying with mandatory provisions of Forest Conservation Act. He further added that it amounts to violation of the Act and is punishable under forest laws. SDM Sundernagar Vivek Chandel said that he was not in a position to tell anything as the matter was pending before the high court, in which different clearances and acquisition of land for the project have been challenged.
Advocate Ashok Sharma, who has filed a writ petition before the high court on behalf of different persons, told that the HC has issued directions that no final award can be passed pertaining to acquisition of land. He reasoned that even if the forest land falls in the site are to be acquired, even then mandatory provisions of Forest Conservation Act are to be complied with.
While company officials are claiming that the land in question is part of the total land leased out to them, failure of government officials to give an explanation regarding the lease leaves several grey areas. It is to be noted that local residents have been accusing revenue officials on favorable treatment given to the cement industry. The residents of Sundernagar have been opposing the setting up of cement plant near Sundernagar since 1995 when the MOU of the project was signed.
Edited by Akhilesh