Blame it on Punjab’s matriculate ministers or their overdrive to issue press statements. After the reshuffle of cabinet berths between BJP ministers last year left him in the ‘wilderness’, Punjab forest and wildlife minister Chunni Lal Bhagat is still making the news for all the wrong reasons. The aging minister (82) this time goofed up and declared land de-notified two years ago as a protected forest.
In a press statement issued on August 11, Bhagat declared that 1,806 hectares of land in Rupnagar district has been declared protected under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900. Quoting the minister, the Punjab public relations department said, “The Punjab government has issued a notification and declared the land to be a protected forest and imposed prohibitions/restrictions on clearing, breaking, cultivation of land, quarrying of stones or cutting of trees, and herding and pasturing of cattle in 108 villages of the district.”
By doing so, the minister has turned a 2012 Punjab government notification, that had de-notified the same land, on its head. “The Punjab governor is pleased to denotify/delist land measuring 1,806 hectares under habitation and cultivated in 108 villages of Rupnagar closed under sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA, 1900,” a state government notification dated May 22, 2012, had stated.
This notification got published in the state government gazette dated August 1, 2014. Now, the forest department is trying to find out how the minister’s statement said something on the contrary.
“The 1,806 hectares in Rupnagar district are part of the 64,000 acres that were de-notified under PLPA in 2012. We are trying to find out how a statement declaring it as a protected forest land was issued. Meanwhile, the department will issue a clarification that the land remains de-notified and has not been declared protected,” said financial commissioner and secretary, forests, Viswajeet Khanna.
When contacted, Bhagat blamed the office of the state principal chief conservator of forests for the goof-up. “All the press statements go through MP Rai, the principal chief conservator of forests, before they are issued. I am trying to check how the mistake was made,” Bhagat said.
Left red-faced by the faux pas, the forest department is ‘hunting’ for the one who framed the statement, as the minister, who is at pains to understand and answer questions in the state assembly, “cannot be blamed”.
It is the second time in as many weeks that the saffron party has been left red-faced in Punjab by its ministers not understanding the intricacies of their respective department. Last week, an over-zealous local bodies minister Anil Joshi had done away with the change of land use (CLU) for hotels and hospitals in a bid to lock horns with alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal. The minister later learnt that the exemption was made two years ago but was not implemented.