Shah commission effect: Environment ministry to fine forest law violators

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 2 2014, 03:04am hrs
Following the MB Shah commission report on illegal mining in Orissa, which highlighted major flaws in the adherence and enforcement of forest laws by miners, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) will amend the Forest Conservation (FC) Act to penalise violators by imposing fines apart from ensuring penal compensatory afforestation.

The present rules give the MoEF the authority to impose penal compensatory afforestation to the project proponent besides punishing government officials responsible for the enforcement, but there is no such fine on the offender.

Incidentally, this development comes days after the Veerappa Moily-led environment ministry notified the new Forest Conservation (Amendment) Rules, 2013 that have set timelines for granting forest clearances to projects and also requires officials to give explanations if these deadlines are not met.

Currently, the divisional forest officer or the regional office is penalised but we have to penalise the violators and not only the enforcement agencies. We will amend the FC Act after the government takes a call on the report, said a senior official of the forest division of MoEF.

The report revealed large-scale violation of environment and forest rules as 94 mines were found to be operating without environment clearance (EC) while 96 obtained delayed ECs.

As per an official in the Orissa government, the ministry has directed the state to ask the offenders to apply for fresh ECs.

There are four kinds of hurdles that these projects have to clear. While some need their mining plans to be approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines, others do not have environment and forest clearances and some need local clearances, the offcial added. The report noted that out of 192 mining leases of iron and manganese ores in the state, 130 lessees are noted to be doing production without lawful authority" in violation of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notifications 1994 and 2006.

Noting that its members themselves had seen the big amount of pollution in the mining areas, the commission said that "instead of being eco-friendly, the trend of the lessees has been dollar-friendly, so that they can earn super normal profits by exporting iron ore".

It said that about 100 sq km area is the "mining impact zone" in Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj districts, where all the 192 mining leases are located and mining is carried out in about 45% of the area, which is a very "high-density leased area".