Citing the Posco project “that would lead to increase in pollution levels”, the Army has proposed an environmental task force for Orissa but the state government differs on what its role should be. The Army suggests the Eco Task Force help plant 1 lakh trees per year. The Orissa forest department, however, would rather have the ETF protect forest officials from Maoists.
The ETF scheme, initiated by the Ministry of Defence in 1982, has led to such battalions in Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Delhi. Brigadier D S Chahal, stationed in the Adjutant General’s Branch, proposed an ecological battalion for Orissa early this year. “Posco project… provides us an excellent opportunity to explore inclusion of our veterans in projects dealing with preservation of environment,” Chahal wrote to the Army Central Command. Last month, Chhattisgarh and Orissa sub-area commander Brigadier Balraj Mehta wrote to the Orissa government, “Raising of Eco Task Force would help in maintenance of ecological balance…” He proposed the ETF help plant 1 lakh trees a year with the help of NCC cadets, scouts and NGOs. “Taking 50 per cent as survival rate will amount to 50,000 a year, it will actually be possible to achieve the targets.”
Two weeks ago, home and forest officials met over the proposal. Principal chief conservator of forests J D Sharma says he made it clear his department needs ETF to protect forest guards in around 30 locations rather than go for afforestation activities. “Our teams are unable to man Maoist-affected areas like Sunabeda in Nuapada district and Simlipal in Mayurbhanj district due to presence of Maoists. Most of my men don’t have arms,” Sharma tells The Indian Express.
Forest officials said they hoped the ETF would help guard forests the way the CRPF has been guarding the Barbara forest in Khurda district.
Sharma says adding 1 lakh trees is not an issue with Orissa as the latest Forest Survey of India report showed that between 2009 and 2011, more than 48 sq km green cover was added.
A state government official said the Army has proposed that 70 per cent of the total cost of Rs 5.5 crore for the ETF’s operations be funded by the Centre, 25 per cent by the state and 5 per cent from corporates in districts.
The Army has suggested that legal authority be vested with the ETF to prosecute anyone found cutting trees planted by the forces.
Though Posco signed its MoU for a 12-million-tonne steel plant in Jagatsinghpur in 2005, the project has struggled to take off due to regulatory hurdles as well as popular protests on the ground.
Environmental clearance for the first phase was renewed in January this year with the condition that the company spend 5 per cent of its total investment on corporate social responsibility.