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Assam: Ex-PCCF MK Yadava lied about forest land diversion, Environment ministry probe reveals

12:45 AM Apr 24, 2024 IST | Mahesh Deka
UpdateAt: 12:45 AM Apr 24, 2024 IST
assam  ex pccf mk yadava lied about forest land diversion  environment ministry probe reveals
Yatbon's affidavit revealed a large-scale construction project underway, contradicting Yadava's description of temporary tents.

Guwahati: A counter-affidavit filed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has exposed former PCCF MK Yadava's attempt to mislead the court regarding the diversion of 44 hectares of protected forest land in Assam's Hailakandi district for non-forestry activities.

Ex-PCCF Tried to Mask Large-Scale Construction Project

Yadava, in his January affidavit to the NGT, asserted that no illegal diversion of forest land had occurred. He claimed the land at Damcherra would be used solely for setting up temporary tents to house a Commando Battalion safeguarding the Inner Line Reserve Forest.

To support his claims, Yadava cited section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which exempts certain ancillary activities from government approval.

Notably, MK Yadava retired as the PCCF and head of the forest force (HoFF) on February 19 and was subsequently re-engaged as special chief secretary (forest) by the Assam government.

MoEF&CC Affidavit Reveals Concrete Evidence of Deception

WI Yatbon, Deputy Inspector General of Forest (DIGF) at MoEF&CC's Shillong Regional Office, submitted a counter-affidavit before NGT on March 28 stating the opposite.

Yatbon's affidavit revealed a large-scale construction project underway, contradicting Yadava's description of temporary tents. The affidavit described permanent concrete structures spanning a massive 11.5 hectares, with a plinth area close to 30,000 square meters.

The affidavit further stated that the scale of the construction far exceeded activities permitted under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 for conservation purposes, such as building check posts or firing range.

“The area of 11.5 ha does not appear to have much semblance to any of the activities mentioned in the explanation (b) of Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 about ancillary activity for conservation, development and management of forest and wildlife, namely, establishment of checkpost, firelines, wireless communications and construction of fencing, bridges and culverts, dams, waterholes, trench marks, boundary marks, Pipelines or other like purposes,” mentioned the affidavit.

Investigation Launched After NGT Takes Notice

The NGT took suo motu cognizance of the case in January 2024 based on a news report titled, “Assam: PCCF MK Yadava accused of illegally clearing protected forest for Commando Battalion,” published in Northeast Now on December 25 last year. Yadava allegedly bypassed mandatory procedures under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for this project located within an Inner Line Reserved Forest. This prompted the MoEF&CC to initiate an investigation in February.

The DIGF's affidavit detailed the findings of the probe, including ongoing construction with hundreds of workers and vehicles despite the ongoing NGT case. The affidavit also mentioned a master plan indicating some structures were half-built, while others were just beginning construction, highlighting the project's significant scale.

Affidavit Raises Environmental Concerns

The affidavit further raised serious environmental concerns. It reported that the 11.5-hectare construction site had been completely cleared of vegetation and leveled. The affidavit mentioned that the area was previously used for rice fields and plantations, indicating a vital ecological area had been sacrificed for the project.

The remaining 32.5 hectares used for the project were described as moderately dense forest with teak and Gamari plantations. This underscores the potential loss of valuable biodiversity due to the project.

Even more alarmingly, the affidavit reported that the Assam PCCF and HoFF had approved construction in September 2023, classifying it as ancillary to forest protection despite the clear evidence of a permanent large-scale construction project.

The affidavit also documented environmental damage caused by the project, including direct dumping of construction soil near a stream and the presence of a stone crushing unit, raising concerns about water pollution and habitat destruction.

"...soil from the construction site is being directly dumped thereby near the site thereby directly affecting the natural flow of a steam nearby. Site for firing range was observed and a small stone crushing unit was also seen on the site for the continuous supply of stones for the construction site," the DIGF mentioned in the affidavit.

This expose by the MoEF&CC affidavit highlights a serious attempt to mislead the court and raises significant environmental concerns.