Forest deptt allowed destruction of green gold, not interested in recovering over Rs. 1000 crore from ‘plunderers’

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Syed Junaid Hashmi

State Forest Department is yet to recover whopping Rs. 1000.61 crore from the agencies whom it handed over forest land for non-forest use in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

This huge outstanding puts Jammu and Kashmir at number 2 among the states which have failed to enforce rule of law and assure that funds for compensatory afforestation are generated by launching vigorous drives against those who are using forest land for non-forest purposes. Odisha is at number 1 with an outstanding of Rs.1235.26 crore.

Of this huge amount, Rs. 795.75 crore was to be realized from the user agencies to whom 10,683.86 hectares of land was diverted for non-forest purposes. The department diverted this huge chunk of forest land to various user agencies across the state without taking legally stipulated steps to recover net present value or what is known as Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) which is managed by Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).

Respective state governments have preferred silence over this issue and allowed the amount to reach Rs. 795.75 crore. This had been revealed by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its audit of Compensatory Afforestation in India which was taken up as per the order of Supreme Court and reference thereon from the Minister of Environment and Forests. The audit has painted a grim picture of the seriousness of forest ministry of Jammu and Kashmir is curbing the menace of forest land being illegally used for non-forest purposes.

According to this report which was released in May this year, Jammu and Kashmir has allowed loot and plunder of green gold by having failed to put stringent curbs on the use of forest land for non-forest purposes.  The reports does acclaim that compared to the 2009 assessment, the forest cover has shown marginal increase of 200 hectares in the 2011 assessment but adds that the growth has not been commensurate to the huge funds available with the state government.

Report goes on to add that such is laxity and non-seriousness of the government that while the Supreme Court revised the rate of Net Present Value (NPV) of the forest land in March 2008, it found out  during test check of records of eight divisions that NPV had not been collected at revised rates. According to CAG, this resulted in loss of more than Rs. 21.04 crore to the state government. It maintains that state is yet to initiate process for revising the NPV as per SC guidelines.

Referring to diversion of 679.12 hectares of Wild Life Sanctuary land for the construction of Mughal Road, the report points out that in October 2007, NPV of Rs. 25.04 crore was short realised from user agency which in this case was Mughal Road Division Shopian. It maintains that this was due to non-application of revised rates of NPV and non-charging five times of the normal rate of NPV prescribed for wildlife sanctuary. Further, net present value of Rs. 13.72 crore was also outstanding against the user agency as of December 2015.

Further, in six other cases pertaining to diversion of 600.68 hectares of forest land during March–July 2010, Compensatory funds amounting to Rs. 3 crore was also not recovered from user agencies namely Border Road Task Force (BRTF) and Indo Tibet Border Police (ITBP) as of December 2015. In February 2007, Net Present Value (NPV) of Rs. 3.25 crore was short realized from user agency in lieu of diversion of land from wild life sanctuary for construction of tunnel on NH1A from Banihal to Srinagar.

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