The audit showcased how state forest department and MoEFCC failed to ensure compliance of conditions while granting clearance
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has, in a recent audit report, flagged non-compliance of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) rules by Maharashtra.
The state diverted 65,363 hectares of forest land for 1,671 projects as on March 2018. But, “the information of non-forest land (NFL) or degraded forest land provided for compensatory afforestation was neither compiled by additional principal chief conservatory of forests (APCCF) nor was the same available with chief conservator of forests,” observed the report, tabled in the state legislature.
No information was shared between the APCCF-cum-nodal officer, responsible for processing forest land diversion cases, and APCCF (CAMPA), responsible for taking up afforestation on alternate lands identified during approval, the report added.
The CAG also found incomplete monthly progress returns (MPR) report with no mention of alterative land allotted, the status of compensatory afforestation and expenditure.
The audit team conducted test checks in 104 cases, in which forest land measuring 2,818.68 hectares was diverted during 2013-18.
The CAG also found inconsistency in reporting in three test-checked circles. While the nodal officer reported 1,011 cases of forest land diversion after 2002, the MPRs submitted showed 374 cases, according to CAG.
Plantation of medicinal plants
The audit exposed how the state forest department and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change failed to ensure compliance of conditions imposed on user agencies at the time of granting forest clearance.
The state Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) laid a condition that user agencies shall prepare a scheme of plantation of medicinal plants on the ‘right of the way’, while granting clearance to three transmission line projects in Gondia and Dhule division.
A right of way is a type of easement granted or reserved over the land for any purpose.
In Gondia division, such plantation were planned for 101 ha. But, CAG auditors on field visits observed that only 20 ha had been covered. In the remaining two projects of Dhule division, no plantation was done even after four to six years.
Bird deflectors and circuit breakers
The user agencies were asked by the MoEF to install bird deflectors and circuit breakers, besides maintaining necessary ground clearance, to prevent electrocution of wild animals, on two transmission line projects in Dhule and Wardha divisions.
However, the records indicated no bird deflectors and circuit breakers in the divisions, the audit reported.
This is despite a case of 1.65 ha of plantation getting lost due to incidents of bird hit in November 2017.
“The matter had been taken up with the user agency (CCF (T) Dhule) and RFO had been directed to take action (DCF, Wardha),” the forest officials said, in reply to CAG's observation.
Habitat for avifauna
While granting approval to 765 ha land for the Aurangabad–Padghe transmission line project, the MoEF asked user agencies to create and maintain alternate habitat for the avifauna, whose nesting trees were to be cleared.
While the user agency deposited Rs 7.28 lakh in May 2016, no work was executed, the CAG found.
“The estimate for the said works was submitted to the technical authority for approval which was awaited as on October 2018,” deputy conservator of forests of Shahapur village in Thane district, said in its reply to CAG.
The MoEF, had in May 2015, stipulated a condition that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) would assist the state government in conservation of wildlife by making provision for the safe crossing and providing corridors. The ministry had asked this while granting clearance to a four-lane Mansar-Khawasa section of NH-7.
In compliance, the chief wildlife warden prepared the plan to be implemented during five years (2015-2020) by Conservator of Forests (CF) and forest department (FD) of Pench Tiger Reserve and CCF (T), Nagpur in their respective areas and NHAI remitted Rs 4.97 crore into adhoc CAMPA.
“The plan which was proposed to be implemented during the period of five years from 2015 to 2020 has not taken off yet,” the auditor observed.
“Against the Rs 4.97 crore remitted by NHAI, amount released during the period 2015-2019 was only Rs 59.50 lakh (11.97 per cent) and the expenditure incurred was only Rs 42.49 lakh (nine percent)”, which defeated the purpose of conservation of wilflife, it added.
In its reply, the CCF and FD of Pench Tiger Reserve stated, in June 2018, that “due to time constraint, the funds could not be utilised during 2016-17 and 2017-18”.
“In future, action would be taken to utilise the funds in the same financial year,” they added.
This audit finding leaves one wondering about the role played by the regional office of the MoEF in ensuring compliance of the conditions inserted while granting forest clearances.
Compliance with other conditions
While granting clearance to 765 ha for Aurangabad-Padghe transmission line, the MoEF laid a condition that “the boundary of the diverted forest land shall be demarcated on ground at the project cost by erecting four feet high reinforced cement concrete pillars”.
Although the user agency deposited an amount of Rs 17.59 lakh in May 2016, no work has been executed so far, the auditor observed.
Similarly, while approving diversion of 5.24 ha of forest land for construction of canal on New Mordad-Khordad distributaries project in Dhule district in April 2016, the ministry put the condition that plantation on both sides of distributaries of Panzan Left Bank canal will be undertaken by user agency at their cost within one year.
But the CAG auditors found that “the work was neither undertaken by the user agency nor was enforced by the state forest department”.
The performance audit clearly shows that conditions inserted at the time of granting stage-II approval were not complied with and the auditors also didn’t find any records to suggest that state forest department and regional office had done their duty in order to ensure the compliance.
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