The power company laid transmission lines in protected areas without getting necessary permissions
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s report on the economy of Gujarat, which was tabled in the Gujarat assembly on March 28, unearthed several grave violations of section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act. Scrutiny of 44 proposals, asking permissions to undertake activities in protected areas of Gujarat,showed that clearance conditions had not been fulfilled.
These 44 proposals were approved by the Supreme Court andthe National Board of Wild Life between February 2008 and August 2016.
Auditors noticed that Adani Power Limited (APL) had laid out Mundra-Dehgam power transmission line in March 2009 without obtaining the statutory permissions for diversion of 58.968 hectare land of Wild Ass Sanctuary, Dhrangadhra. The APL had applied for the permission two months ago in January that year, but didn’t bother to wait and follow the procedure.
The Forest and Environment Department, during field inspections in March 2009, noticed that Adani Power Limited had already laid the transmission line without waiting for the statutory permission to be granted, said the audit report. The company was asked to stop the work in the same month it had started.
Subsequently, in May 2009, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests granted an in-principle approval. This appears to have emboldened Adani Power Limited to once again start the work on power transmission lines. The orders of Central Electrical Authority said APL had commissioned the transmission lines in July 2009, adds the CAG report.
Surprisingly, while the transmission lines got commissioned in July 2009, from records CAG auditors established that diversion of sanctuary land was approved by principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) (Wildlife) only in September 2010, which is 13 months after the work to lay transmission line had already been commissioned.This makes it clear that APL didn’t obtain requisite permissions under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980 before starting the work.
Audit scrutiny also put the much-delayed payment of Net Present Value (NPV) for the diversion of forestland under scanner. Auditors found that Divisional Forest Officer didn’t issue demand notice for diversion of 40.768 hectares of non-forest land of the sanctuary.
The report also highlighted that for the remaining 18.20 hectares NPV was demanded at the rate of Rs 7 lakh per hectare rather than at Rs 7.30 lakh per hectare, which was the approved rate. Auditors calculated this generosity to have resulted in total non-recovery of NPV of Rs 3.24 crore (18.2 hectares x Rs 30,000 + 40.768 hectares x Rs 7.30 lakh).After a CEC order (May 2010)that asked that penal interest charges in the case of delayed payment and short payment of NPV be collected, the dues from APL should have been calculated to be higher thanRs 3.24 crore, which is a figure of NPV due from user agency without the application of penalty.
The CAG auditors also found that APL had paid NPV in July 2013. However, even after this Gujarat’s Forests and Environment Department, till November 2014, had not suggested that the proposal be approved. The proposal of Forests and Environment Department dated November 2014 for the final approval to MoEF had put a condition to levy penal NPV on APL.
In May 2015, Union Ministry asked the state’s Forests and Environment Department to look into cases where forestland had been used for non-forest purposes without obtaining prior approval of the Centre. The ministry also directed Forests and Environment Dept of Govt of Gujarat to forward a draft complaint against persons prima facie found guilty for violation of Forests Conservation Act, 1980, within a month.
The audit observed that exhibiting extra ordinary leniency to APL, the department had not initiated any action on these instructions even after a lapse of two years, as of May 2017 (i.e. when the audit was perusing the records). When the CAG auditors finalized the Audit Paragraphs (December 2017), final approval from MoEF was still pending.
So, this audit paragraph ends on a sentence to show how PCCF (Wildlife) seems to lack any commitment to Wildlife Protection Act or constitutional audit findings:“Reply of PCCF (WL) was awaited (December 2017)”.
The audit report pointed out that high voltage power transmission lines were also laid by Gujarat Energy Transmission Company Ltd (GETCO) and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) in May 2014 and they too failed to comply with mitigation measures as prescribed under MoEF guidelines. All three agencies had laid power transmission lines to evacuate power generated at APL’s Ultra Mega Power Project, Mundra, and these high voltage transmission lines crossed ecological sensitive Little Rann of Kutch, which is a nesting ground for flamingos and also a stopover in their international migration route. These birds were prone to collision and electrocution with transmission lines and as a mitigation measure, MoEF guidelines (May 2014) emphasised use of insulated conductors to prevent electrocution of birds. The sanctions for laying down the power transmission lines through the Little Rann of Kutch were granted subject to the condition of installing reflector or use of insulated cables.
There was no system to monitor compliance of conditions laid down in the sanctions. In the absence of monitoring mechanism, compliance to the conditions could not be ensured, observed the CAG audit report. Consequently, CAG auditors asked in May 2017 for compliance report on the mitigation measures taken. Replying to this audit query, the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wild Ass Sanctuary, Dhrangadhra, confirmed in June 2017 that mitigation measures were not implemented.
In the absence of mitigation measures, lives of flamingos and other birds were under threat, added the CAG audit report.
(The author teaches Environment Justice in India at Azim Premji University, Bangalore)
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