Irked by the defiant attitude of a senior forest service officer under the environment ministry, a group of ministers (GoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has asked minister in-charge Jayanthi Natarajan to ensure that its decisions are complied with.
Additional director general of forests A K Bansal, an additional secretary-level official, had refused to implement a GoM decision on scrapping the ‘go/no-go policy’, instituted by former minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, unless the instructions were conveyed by the cabinet itself.Bansal had conveyed his views at a meeting with coal ministry officials, who wanted the ministry to give due consideration to certain coal projects in areas categorised as no-go in the policy.
In 2009, the environment ministry had classified forested regions into two regions – go and no-go – and imposed a ban on mining in 'no-go' zones, citing environmental reasons.
Mukherjee had raised the issue at a recent GoM meeting on coal-related issues, with reference to a letter written by coal secretary Alok Perti to environment secretary T Chatterjee — complaining that Bansal had refused to abide by the GoM decision.
“The decisions of the GoM were taken after careful consideration of all facts placed before it. However, if some members have divergent views, they have the option of approaching the cabinet or the relevant cabinet committee to seek any change,” the minutes of the GoM quoted Mukherjee as saying.
Natarajan, who was also present at the meeting, said she was not aware of the letter and asked the GoM not to consider the official’s view. Bansal was not available for comment.
The GoM then made several decisions, including consultations between the environment and tribal affairs ministry on transmission lines, to speed up the development process in forest areas. As per the Forest Rights Act, no development work can be carried out
without the informed consent of the gram sabha — a body of villagers. In the case of transmission lines, the GoM wants to restrict it to the approval of the gram panchayat, a body of elected members from village.