By: Mahesh Chander Sharma
Mandi (Oct 18): The Himachal Pradesh forest department and the Union ministry of environment appear to be too keen to go ahead with the controversial cement plant near Sundernagar in district Mandi despite the fact that various clearances given to the project have been challenged by the residents of Sundernagar before the Central Empowered Committee (a committee set up by the Supreme Court) and before the state high court as well.
This is evident from the fact that few days back, Harish Cement Ltd deposited an amount of Rs 21 crore in the office of DFO Sundernagar towards Net Present Value of Forest land to be used by it for mining purpose. For setting up of the cement plant near Sundernagar, the government has diverted 173 hectares of forest land for mining purpose in favour of the company. Interestingly, no formal case for diversion of forest land was moved from the DFO office in Sundernagar, even than various clearances have been given to the project. As per records available in the DFO office, neither any demarcation of forest land was conducted nor a case to divert land as required under Forest Conservation Act was moved from the division office at Sundernagar. In the past Sundernagar DFO has written to conservator, forests, Mandi that no record was available in the forest division pertaining to divert forest land.
As only in-principle forest clearance was accorded to the project by the ministry of environment and forest, for getting final forest clearances the project authorities had to deposit the NPV ( Net Present value), which was earlier worked out to be Rs 28 crore by the forest department, but Harish Cement ltd challenged it before MOEF, which reduced the amount to Rs 21 crore, which has now been deposited
This entire amount to initiating the proceeding for final forest clearance for the project. Interestingly, the in-principle forest clearance and environment clearance, which was accorded to the project in the year 2005, has been challenged before CEC and the high court and the department of forest and ministry of environment and forests were party in these proceedings..
According to local residents, both the MoEF and forest department were favoring the cement industry from the very beginning, despite opposition from residents. Source in the DFO office admitted that the amount pertaining to NPV has been deposited. They further admitted that the office had to accept the amount in order to “oblige political bosses”. According to CB Pandy, conservator of forests, Mandi forest circle, the amount pertaining to NPV was deposited as per communication received from top officials.