Reported by Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar, May 28:
After much furore, the Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) has finally cancelled the forest land allotted to Bhusan Steel Limited (BSL) and has asked the company to give back the land within 15 days.
What has raised eyebrows is why the IDCO, that had maintained a mysterious silence over a blatant violation of the Forest Act by the company for eight long years, suddenly woke up and cancelled the allotted land to the company, which has already set up a steel plant in the ‘allotted’ land in Dhenkanal.
It may be noted here that on the basis of preliminary approval from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), IDCO had handed over 58.24 hectare of revenue forest land and 3.23 ha of Protected Forest land in favour of Bhusan Steel and Strips Ltd (which is now BSL) in Dhenkanal and Angul districts respectively in 2007 for non forest purpose.
However, BSL utilised the entire forest land for non-forest activities before the issue of final clearance from MoEF, in violation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation (FC) Act.
“IDCO has transferred the said revenue forest land measuring 58.24 ha covering four villages in Dhenkanal district in favour of the user agency, but the approval has been kept in abeyance by MoEF. Whereas the order issued by MoEF on 11 December, 2006 in respect of 61.48 ha forest land for the proposed steel plant has been communicated to the firm, but IDCO was kept in dark about the said abeyance order of MoEF by the user agency,” said Chief General Manager (Land) of IDCO in a letter to BSL.
The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Dhenkanal had issued a show cause notice in September 2007 to the company asking why penal action shall not be taken against the firm for violation of FC Act-1980.
The DFO intimated to the Dhenkanal Collector on 30 January, 2014 through a letter that BSL has utilized the entire forest land for non-forest activities before issue of final clearance from MoEF, which violates Section 2 of the Forest Conservation (FC) Act.
“Such violation also amounts to breach of the terms and conditions of lease deed executed by IDCO in favour of BSL in respect of the diverted forest land of 58.24 ha in Dhenkanal district as mentioned at clause No 44 and 58 (of the registered deed No.421 dated.01.02.2007). It definitely contravenes the provisions of the FC Act,” the letter further stated.
The IDCO has issued a show cause notice to the steel firm for violating terms and conditions put forth by the State PSU in the allotment letter as well as in the lease deed in respect of the forest land in question.
However, the role of the Odisha government in this entire exercise is not above suspicion.
Although the MoEF had asked the state government on Dec 11, 2006, to furnish a detailed report on the Bhushan project, the state government did not respond to it even once in the last eight years.
In its recent letter, the Ministry has expressed surprise that the state authorities allowed the company to utilise the forest land even though the final approval for the land’s diversion for industrial use had been kept in abeyance.
“Why the approval accorded under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, shall not be permanently withdrawn and the user agency be directed to restore the forest land back to its original status after its full reclamation?”, the ministry had asked in its letter.