The Supreme Court on Monday said it might order the CBI to investigate the misappropriation of funds meant for compensatory afforestation around Taj Mahal in order to protect the monument from pollution by putting a green cover in its vicinity. “We should order a CBI inquiry because it looks like they (officers) have eaten away the money.
It has instead become a fertile ground for corruption. They have not only flouted orders by this court but also led to threatening the monument too. These officers need to be prosecuted,” said a bench of Justices T S Thakur and C Nagappan.
The bench said such officers must be identified and prosecuted. “These officers cannot play with the court orders. It is unfortunate that things have reached a stage where even orders by the Supreme Court are flouted like this. All this must be corrected or we will speak in the language they very well understand. We will order the CBI director to register a case, prosecute these officers and jail them,” it added.
The court was incensed over the fact that the Uttar Pradesh government had failed to plant saplings as compensatory afforestation for the trees felled for various projects.
Not only the state authorities lacked in planting adequate number of saplings, they also filed an affidavit with “factually incorrect” details regarding the saplings, the bench noted. “They have eaten away from this fund. There seems to be only jungle growth and it appears no methodical plantation has happened. Nobody seems bothered. You have suspended a forest officer but we think the chief conservator for forests should be suspended. We will definitely take care of the prosecution,” said the court.
The bench also relied upon a report by the Central Empowered Committee, which was asked to physically verify the plantation of the saplings in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), which is a defined area of 10,400 sq km around the monument.
CEC’s advocate A D N Rao pointed out that there were severe discrepancies in the affidavits filed by the state government, besides stating there did not appear to be adequate space earmarked to plant the saplings. He said that while there was a need to identify more than 700 hectares of land for compensatory afforestation, the state have so far earmarked only five hectares.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, representing the Centre, highlighted how the state government officers had initially claimed that 15,000 saplings were planted but after the court ordered physical verification, they filed a subsequent affidavit arguing that it was an “inadvertent error”.
The bench posted the matter for April 27, asking the state government to file a detailed report on plantation, area identified for compensatory afforestation, appropriation of funds and road map in future for implementation of its orders.