Assam official served notice over diversion of forest land | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Assam official served notice over diversion of forest land

ByJayashree Nandi
May 25, 2024 04:46 AM IST

The official, MK Yadava, has 60 days to respond to the Union environment ministry's notice.

The Union environment ministry has issued a show cause notice to a top Assam official for allegedly diverting forest land without proper clearance to build a police commando battalion camp, according to documents seen by HT.

The officer allegedly diverted forest land without proper clearance to build a police commando battalion camp (Representational Image)
The officer allegedly diverted forest land without proper clearance to build a police commando battalion camp (Representational Image)

Also Read: Assam CM urged Union minister to allow commando camp in protected forest

The ministry’s regional office in Shillong sent the notice to MK Yadava, special additional chief secretary of Assam, on May 14 under the Forest Conservation Amendment Act 2023. It alleges Yadava illegally diverted around 44 hectares inside the Inner Line Reserve Forest in Hailakandi district.

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Yadava, deemed “guilty of the said offence,” has 60 days to respond and explain why a complaint should not be filed in court. Failure to respond will result in legal proceedings, the notice warned.

The law, the Van (samrakshan evam samvardhan), which loosely translates to Forest (conservation) Act lays down in Section 2 the illegality in diverting forest land for non-forest purpose.

Section 3A of the Forest Conservation Act states that violating or abetting the violation of Section 2 is punishable by up to 15 days of simple imprisonment. Section 3B(1) says that if a government department or authority commits an offense, the head of the department or those directly in charge and responsible for the authority’s conduct at the time of the offense shall be deemed guilty and liable for prosecution. Rule 15(3) of the Van (Samrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Rules 2023, which allows the central government to authorise an Assistant Inspector General or higher-ranking officer to initiate legal proceedings and file complaints against offenses committed under the Act.

The National Green Tribunal launched an investigation based on news reports about the unauthorised forest land use. Documents show Yadava approved the commando battalion camp in September 2023, claiming it qualified as a forest conservation activity under the Forest Conservation Act.

The letter states that the National Green Tribunal registered a suo moto application on the basis of a news report on diversion of forests for the commando battalion.

“As per the ministry’s and this office’s request seeking details from the state government for the alleged violation for setting of second commando battalion camp at Damchera within the Inner Line Reserve Forest the same has accordingly been submitted and on scrutiny of the saif documents, it is observed that vide your letter No FG 40/14/Mizoram Border/Pt II dated September 28, 2023, you had given approval for the second commando battalion within the ILRF by referring to section 2 (b) of the forest (conservation) act 1980 that it qualifies as an activity relating to conservation of forests.”

However, a March 2024 site visit by the ministry found large-scale, permanent construction covering 11.5 hectares (28 acres), which did not align with permissible conservation activities.

Yadava declined to comment on the notice, saying he would respond directly to authorities. Ministry officials in Shillong confirmed providing information under RTI but were not authorised to discuss the notice’s contents.

HT reported on April 10 that a forest official in Assam allowed construction of a commando battalion unit in a protected forest to purportedly stop encroachments by Mizo people from the neighbouring state of Mizoram.

The move created a furore among local conservationists, compelling the Union ministry to take note and direct the state government, in March, to halt construction immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that a person who was in service for 35 years in Assam Forest Department has no knowledge of The Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan). When the government itself starts violating the law, what moral authority it has got to take action against others for similar violations?,” said Rohit Choudhury, wildlife and RTI activist.

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