In a case of apparent conflict of interest, a member of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) — the Supreme Court (SC) appointed committee looking into violation of forest laws that is now investigating the multi-crore mining scam in Orissa — wrote the wildlife conservation plan for one of the leaseholders that is under SC scanner.
The Orissa government has demanded Rs 76,000 crore from around 200 leaseholders as penalty for extracting iron ore and manganese in excess of the prescribed limit.
Officials documents accessed by The Indian Express show that Saroj Kumar Patnaik, former chief wildlife warden of Orissa and one of the four members of the CEC, wrote the wildlife conservation plan for KJS Ahluwalia’s iron ore mines when it applied for renewal of its lease in 2004.
The conservation plan was made mandatory by the Ministry of Environment and Forests more than a decade ago as most mining areas are in critical wildlife habitats.
Patnaik, who visited KJS Ahluwalia’s iron ore mine at Nuagaon area of Keonjhar district on July 13 along with CEC chairperson P V Jayakrishnan, had recommended in his plan that the company spend Rs 2.66 crore for wildlife management around the mining lease area of 767.284 acres.
The CEC arrived in Keonjhar district on July 12 to conduct verification of some mines allegedly engaged in illegal operations. KJS Ahluwalia’s mines were among those inspected. The MoEF first discovered illegal mining by the company in November 2011. In January 2012, the divisional forest officer of Rourkela, in his report to the principal chief conservator of forests of Orissa, found numerous violation of forest laws by the company.
The CEC, which is expected to submit its final report to SC, Tuesday attended a meeting with Orissa chief secretary J K Mohapatra after returning from Keonjhar. Patnaik was part of the meeting.
Patnaik, however, refuted there was any conflict of interest. “It’s true I wrote their mining plans. But that was long ago. I have not written any wildlife management plan for the past six years. As CEC member, I am not looking into wildlife law violation. In any case, the Supreme Court would have the final say,” Patnaik told The Indian Express.
KJS Ahluwalia is not the only mine for which Patnaik wrote the wildlife conservation plan. He also wrote the plan for Thakurani iron ore mines of Sharda Mines in Keonjhar district, which have been lying closed due to lack of environmental clearance. Incidentally, the CEC team visited the mines on March 6 this year. He also wrote the plan for Kaypee Enterprises, which holds the lease for Thakurani iron ore mines.
Rabi Das, a journalist who filed the interlocutory application before the CEC in the case in December 2009, said Patnaik should not have become a CEC member given his previous role. “He may have written the plans long ago, but it was proper for him to recuse himself from site visits. How can we now expect CEC reports to be impartial when one of its member worked for the violators? We would raise these issues before CEC,” Das said.
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