UP govt book three of its officers for sand mining in name of ‘eco-restoration’
The Uttar Pradesh government has lodged a police complaint against three top forest officials for calling tenders for mining sand in reserved forests, which can’t be done without the Centre’s permission, HT learnt on Thursday.
The three forest corporation officials went ahead with the proposal without even consulting the forest department, which guards these green stretches on behalf of the Centre. “The Uttar Pradesh van nigam (forest corporation) without taking the approval of the state and the central government and in violation of norms sought e-tenders for sand mining in the name of eco-restoration of forests along the rivers,” says the FIR lodged by state’s special secretary (forest) Om Prakash.
HT has a copy of the complaint that names director SK Sharma, senior general manager Manoj Sinha and general manager JP Sinha. They have been accused of criminal conspiracy, cheating and causing loss to the government.
Non-forest activity, including mining, is not allowed in forest areas without the Centre’s approval. Governments in several states allow mining in and around rivers and water bodies in forests and many times it is done without the approval of the Centre on the excuse of eco-restoration work.
Eco-restoration is a provision meant to keep reserved areas in good health by clearing debris or any other object that affects local ecology.
UP’s principal conservator of forest Rupak De refused comment, saying FIR was lodged after an inquiry. “Everything has been explained in the FIR,” he said.
“One has to understand the importance of sand for green fauna. Sand provides biotic relief to trees and bushes and there is a natural process of removal of excess sand. Removing sand by forest department does more harm than good,” said Fayaz Khudsar, a senior biologist with the Delhi University.
Quoting the inquiry report, FIR, lodged on May 5, says director Sharma was aware that calling tenders was in violation of the Indian forest act and the Supreme Court ban on sand mining in forest areas.
Sharma pursued the proposal despite the state government not responding to his letter in September 2017 as it violated norms, the FIR says.
“The proposal was aimed at creating ecological imbalance within the forest areas as sand mining inside forests would mean use of heavy machinery and movement of vehicles and therefore it was scrapped,” the FIR said.
An official of the Uttar Pradesh forest department familiar with the matter said the corporation had no right to issue tenders without the permission of the forest department and without analysing if eco-restoration was needed.
The investigation was on and statements of the accused were being recorded, station house officer of Gazipur police station Surjeet Kumar Rai said.
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