Forest scam: ED raids premises of former Uttarakhand minister Harak Singh Rawat - Hindustan Times

Forest scam: ED raids premises of former Uttarakhand minister Harak Singh Rawat

Feb 07, 2024 03:58 PM IST

The raids are linked to a case against Rawat over the alleged felling of thousands of trees, financial irregularities, and illegal construction at the Corbett National Park

Dehradun: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday conducted raids at multiple locations linked to Congress leader and former cabinet minister Harak Singh Rawat as part of its money laundering investigation in connection with a forest scam case, officials aware of the matter said.

Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat (File Photo)
Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat (File Photo)

The raids were conducted at his residence and other locations in Uttarakhand, Delhi and Chandigarh.

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The raids are linked to a case against Rawat, former forest minister of Uttarakhand, over the alleged felling of thousands of trees, financial irregularities, and illegal construction at the Corbett National Park.

Earlier a committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had found glaring felling of trees, making of roads and raising of constructions in Corbett Tiger Reserve, following which the state government last year requested an audit.

The matter relates to a petition originally filed by Gaurav Bansal, Supreme Court advocate and wildlife activist in 2021 in Delhi high court on illegal constructions, felling of trees and constructions in CTR. The court on August 23, 2021, directed NTCA to look into the issues raised in the petition.

In July last year, Uttarakhand’s principal accountant general (audit) report found gross financial irregularities in various projects in the Pakhro Tiger Reserve in Corbett, the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve (KTR) and Lansdowne Forest Divisions.

The report pointed out that no administrative, financial, technical, or statutory approvals were obtained by the division/department before the commencement of tiger safari work and other construction works.

Following this, in August last year, Uttarakhand’s Vigilance Department raided a college owned by Rawat and his son Tushit Rawat in Dehradun in connection with the case and seized two generators from the Doon Institute of Medical Sciences in Shankarpur and the Amravati petrol pump.

On two generators procured by the KTR divisional forest officer, the report stated that “one generator was installed at Doon Institute of Medical Science, Dehradun (a private institute run by the son of the then forest minister) and at Meerawati Filling Station, village Nepali Farm, Hindrawala, Rishikesh. The division had paid 15.40 lakh for procurement of the above generators.”

The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) in January last year had recommended “appropriate action” against Harak Singh Rawat after issuing a notice to him in connection with illegal constructions and felling of trees in the Corbett Tiger Reserve.

The CEC report stated that the then forest minister (Harak Singh Rawat) was instrumental in the planning and execution of illegal and unauthorised roads and buildings within the Corbett Tiger Reserve and in the Lansdowne Division as is evident from his notings in government files and of him having supervised the illegal works executed by Kishan Chand, the then DFO (Kalagarh).

Chand was then suspended in April 2022 and later was arrested on December 23, 2022, from Uttar Pradesh.

A report from the Forest Survey of India (FSI) last year stated that over 6,000 trees were felled for the proposed Pakhro Tiger Safari project in CTR over an area of 16.21 hectares, based on an analysis of old and new satellite images and field visit by FSI team to the area concerned.

The report stated that the principal culprit in the “illegal construction of roads and buildings infrastructure is the then DFO Kalagarh with dubious past of committing similar irregularities has been hand-picked by the then forest minister to be posted to Kalagarh Forest Division and that too without a recommendation from the PCCF (principal chief conservator of forests) and civil services board. This was done ignoring the advice of the state Vigilance Department and the PCCF and HoFF (head of forest forces) not to post him in sensitive posts. It is, therefore, no surprise that massive legal and financial fraud has been committed within a short period of posting Kishan Chand to Kalagarh Forest Division”.

Rawat joined the Congress in 2022 ahead of the state assembly polls after being dismissed from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state cabinet and the primary membership of the party for alleged anti-party activities.

“The government is targeting Opposition leaders ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Raids on Harak Singh Rawat is another example. He was aspiring to contest from Haridwar Lok Sabha seat. So the timing of the raid says it all,” Congress state president Karan Mahara said.

Senior Congress leader Pritam Singh said the ED raids on Rawat show that the government is trying to muzzle opposition voices.

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