The environment ministry may have hoodwinked its in-charge Jairam Ramesh to help a company escape action initiated by the minister.
The ministry’s forest division issued a circular on January 6, 2011, inserting the proviso “it is advisable” in the original rule without the minister’s approval.
The ministry had issued a notice to Jindal Steel and Power Limited on December 14, 2010, on why its environment clearance should not be revoked for starting construction in non-forestland for its integrated steel plant in Kerjang in Orissa before the forest clearance was granted in October 2010.
A ministry panel found the allegation to be true in December. Jindal steel admitted that the construction has taken place but cited a clause in an agreement with the Orissa government to start work within three years of signing it.In the meantime, the Forest Advisory Committee, which allowed diversion of forestland, met and recommended insertion of key words — "it is advisable" — in the guidelines of the Act. The revised rule said, "if a project involves forest as well as non-forestland, it is advisable that the work should not be started on non-forest land till the approval of the government for release of the forestland under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been given".
The forest division’s explanation for the change was that since approval was given for diversion of forestland in October 2010, the December show-cause notice had no value.
“It was only on February 17, I discovered the existence of the January 6 circular. The circular has been issued without my approval but after a discussion in the forest advisory committee. I took serious note of the this lapse and ordered that the status quo ante should be restored,” Ramesh said on Monday.
On minister’s direction the forest division, issued a revised circular on Monday. Ramesh also said it was beyond doubt that Jindal Steel had started construction in the non-forestland before getting final and directed the state government to initiate action against the company.