Punjab: Forest dept’s tailor-made order has minister fuming

  • Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Mar 13, 2015 09:49 IST

A ‘customised’ notification issued by the department of forests and wildlife preservation, Punjab, has annoyed the department’s top brass, including forest minister Chunni Lal Bhagat, as it has been issued against the directions of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The March 3 notification enlists tailor-made conditions mandating the handing over a project to deal with problem of water logging in south-western Punjab to retired principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) level officer as its chief executive officer (CEO), giving him sweeping financial and executing powers, on a par with and parallel to the department. Sources said the proposal was ‘customised’ for HS Gujaral who retired as the PCCF in 2013, a fact that the officer admits to be aware of.

When contacted, Gujaral said, “The problem of water logging is very serious and need to be dealt with expertise.”
The issue of the notification is likely to invite severe rebuke for those involved in its preparation as the minister had categorically told the CM that such a proposal was not acceptable to him, as it was being projected as a ‘parallel arrangement’ to the forest department, bypassing him. Principal secretary forests, Vishavjeet Khanna, who is upset with the development, told HT that the notification was faulty and an amendment would be being brought in very soon.

Sources added that the special secretary, department of forest and wildlife preservation, who signed the notification, is likely to face action.

Contentious clause

The contentious clause of the notification is III (V) which states that a CEO will be hired for the project and goes on to add that the CEO will be a retired PCCF-level officer and given responsibility for the execution of project. “He will exercise powers of principal chief conservator of forests in respect of the project and entitled to pay equivalent to last pay drawn and other facilities such as vehicle/transport allowance,” says the clause. This clause, however, was ordered to be cut down by the CM.

The notification talks about ‘integrated waterlogged areas reclamation and development project’ with a governing body led by CM as chairman, forest minister as vice-chairman and finance minister, chief secretary, financial commissioners development and forests and wildlife, principal secretary finance, director forest research institute, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor and director, agriculture, and project chief executive officer (CEO) as members and principal chief conservator of forests as member secretary.

The notification also mandates a project implementation committee (PIC) with financial commissioner (forests) as chairman and the CEO as its member secretary.

The forest minister was bypassed as far as reporting of CEO is concerned, as, according to the notification he will report to the chairman of the PIC who happens to be the chief minister.

Sources revealed that the proposal was moved bypassing the forest minister in the discussions about the project and in the minutes of the meeting it was also proposed to make Gujaral as the CEO and a retired DFO level officer from Patiala as somebody to assist him.

The provisions of funds for the project has also raised questions on the intention of the notification, as it says funds would be transferred from forest department, from budget available under different schemes of the Central government, different schemes of state government, corporate social responsibility funds from public and private sector corporations.

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