By: Mahesh Chander Sharma
Mandi (Dec 2): The government of Himachal Pradesh has been talking much about protecting environment, but in reality things appear to have turned from bad to worst as is evident from this case whereby thousands of bighas of forest land have allegedly been illegally diverted to a mining project.
As per recent investigations conducted by this writer, it was found that the mining department has leased out thousands of bighas of forest land in favour of Harish Cement Ltd (which is setting up a cement plant hear in Sundernagar) without complying with mandatory provisions of Forest Conservation Act. The revenue staff immediately made a note on the revenue entries of forest land that the land has been leased out in favour of the controversial mining project, which otherwise is being opposed by local residents.
Investigations have revealed that the director, industries department, had signed a mining lease
pertaining to 725.857 hectares (8964-6-9 bighas) of land on 15-1-2007 in favour of Harish Cement Ltd, which was registered by Sundernagar tehsildar on 31-1-2007 vide registration no. 100/07. One interesting fact came into light that out of the leased land 469.68 hect ( 5871-15-5 bighas) was forest land and 249 hect (3092 bighs) was private land.
In the past, Harish Cement Ltd had moved a case for diversion of 173 hect ( 2162 bighs) only for mining purpose , which was accorded in-principal approval in the year 2005 by MOEF but for rest of the area covering 296 hect (3704 bighas) neither any case for diversion was moved nor it was sanctioned. As per provisions of Forest Conservation Act, 1980, no forest land can be used for non-forest purpose without prior approval of the central government, which was missing in the present case.
Sundernagar tehsildar Hira Singh Thakur confirmed that the lease deed was registered for leasing out 8,964 bighas ( 725.85 hect) in favour of Harish Cement Ltd on 31-1-2007. He further admitted that a note in the revenue papers (Jamabandis) in eight muhals has been entered that the land (total forest land 5871 bighas) has been leased out in favour of the cement project.
Mandi mining officer Puneet Guleria, when contacted, confirmed the execution of lease deed and further stated that there was no ‘no-objection’ for 3,092 bighas of private land by the respective land owners as required under Mineral Concession rules.
According to DFO Sundernagar BK Babu, the office received in principal clearance for 173 hectares of forest land and still no final clearance was given by MOEF . He further said that no case pertaining to 296 hect (3,704 bighs) of forest land was ever moved, “so how it can be leased out without approval from the central government”.
Conservator of forests, Mandi circle, CB Pandey said the forest land cannot be leased out until final clearance was received from MOEF. He said that there was no question of leasing out any forest land without the prior approval of the central government. Pandey further said that he has called for a report and if it was so the department would start action against guilty officials.
Commissioner, industries, Onkar Sharma said he would enquire into the matter and whosoever was found guilty would be booked for leasing out the forest land. According to top forest officials it was for the first time in India that thousands of bighas of land has been leased out for mining project without any approval of MOEF. Joginder Singh, president of state unit of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, has demanded high level inquiry into the matter.