Regularise Essar forest land, state urges MoEF
The state government has sent a proposal to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to regularise the forest encroachment by Essar Group at Hazira near Surat.
State Forest and Environment Minister Mangu Patel said this in the Assembly during Question Hour on Tuesday in response to a question by Congress MLA Mohmad Farukh Sheikh.
Patel told the House: "The government had registered a case against Essar Steel Company under the Indian Forest Act 1927 for the illegal encroachment on survey No 434-A-1-1 land (20.76 hector). Essar Company has applied for the regularisation of the buildings (residential quarters and other buildings). The government has proposed to the Centre to regularise these encroachment under the certain conditions."
The encroachment is estimated at Rs. 250 crore.
In a subsequent answer, Patel said: "We have asked the company to pay Rs. 29 crore as a 2.5 times of the market rate of the forest land as penalty and compensatory land in the lion corridor near Gir."
He told the Assembly that the state government had registered various cases against the company in connection with the encroachment. Sheikh had asked for the number of complaints filed against Essar as of December 31, 2009 by the Vyara deputy forest conservator. Sheikh had also wanted details about the action taken by the state government.
Patel refused to comment when contacted by The Indian Express.
Sheikh said: "It's shameful that instead of taking exemplary action against the company for criminal violation of the Forest Act and encroachment on forest land the government has proposed to hand over the land to the company at throwaway prices which will be huge loss to the state. The government should have taken strong action against company's owners, officials and the government officials. I will write to the Government of India to reject the state government's proposal and if needed will approach the High Court."
Patel had told the House a year ago: "Essar encroached forest land in survey number 434/1/1 in 2006, and the Deputy Conservator of Forest had registered four complaints. Action has been taken under the Indian Forest Act of 1927. The first complaint (forest crime No. 1 dated January 19, 2007) concerned Essar Steel's ongoing construction of a building on the encroached land and the construction has been stopped."
The second complaint, also dated January 19, 2007, related to the Encroacher's Act of clearing land and starting work on the installation of a fencing in survey No 334/A/1. Patel had said the fence installation had been stalled.
The third complaint, dated February 6, 2007, was the outcome of Essar's attempt to build houses on the forest land. Patel had said the construction work had been stopped in survey no 178 and 181, and the last complaint (October 30, 2007) had initiated the process of removing the encroachment in its entirety, but the task had not been completed yet.
Surat's assistant public prosecutor and the assistant government pleader had recommended action against four officers: two range forest surveyors, one surveyor and the DILR office's surveyor, Patel had said on record in the Assembly last year.
A commission inquiring into the Surat floods of 2006 had said that Essar's encroachment in Surat district and Hazira was a triggering factor for the deluge.
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