Waiting for compliance patiently

first posted @ http://www.indiatogether.org/waiting-for-compliance-patiently-environment

Himanshu Upadhyaya examines a CAG audit report to point out the blatant non-compliance of environmental laws largely by the Forest officials.

It was in September 2003 that the union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued guidelines on collection of Net Present Value (NPV) of forest land in cases of forest land diversion for non-forest purposes.

However, the authorities from the Forest and Environment Department have remained lax on raising demands for the NPV from user agencies, until May 2010 when the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) – constituted by the Supreme Court of India – instructed that mining leaseholders who did not pay NPV within a period of 30 days from the date of issue of demand, would not be allowed to continue mining, till payment of NPV along with interest is made.

Acting on this instruction, Forest and Environment Department of Odisha government prescribed – only in May 2013, probably waking up late as even CEC’s instructions were continued to get violated – the rate of interest at nine percent per annum for delayed payment of NPV.

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India undertook an audit of Odisha Forest and Environment Department during May 2016 to December 2016. It was revealed during audit scrutiny of records pertaining to four Divisional Forests Offices (DFOs) – namely Angul, Cuttack, Jharsuguda and Chandaka (Wildlife) – that officers only raised demands for NPVs from 10 user agencies after the strict instructions by CEC.

These demands against 10 user agencies for not paying NPV were raised between June 2010 and May 2015. When auditors scrutinized whether the user agencies – which were shielded all the while by the forest officers who were more than eager to ensure non-compliance – paid NPV within the 30 days period, they found that NPV was paid by user agencies with delays ranging from 18 days to a shocking 1115 days from the due dates for payment.

A footnote in the audit report states that in 11 cases, there were delays ranging between 18 to 50 days, in two cases there were delays ranging between 51 to 150 days and in one case – Bharatpur Open Cast Mining for 70.94 hectares – submission of NPV was delayed by 1115 days. The detail of all these 14 cases with the name of user agencies is given in appendix 3.1.1 in the audit report.

 

What this audit finding reveals is that none of these four Divisional Forest Offices showed any eagerness to comply with the strict instructions by CEC. Not only did they accept much delayed submission of NPV, they conveniently forgot to ask user agencies to pay the interest charges on delayed payment of NPV.

What is the case of compliance even after CAG auditors pointing out this grave irregularities to Forest and Environment Department during the process of audit (May 2016 to December 2016). In a reply that is filed by the state government, six months later, in June 2017; it was stated that out of Rs 1.31 crore interest charges recoverable with regards to 14 mining projects, interest of Rs 0.29 crore had been recovered from two user agencies. Pray, what did the reply tell us about the remaining Rs 1.02 crores in 12 mining projects? We are being asked to patiently read the essence of the reply getting reproduced in audit report thus: “The steps were being taken for collection of balance amount of Rs 1.02 crore”.

Another audit report that has been tabled in Odisha state assembly recently also shows how officers from mining department showed no eagerness to recover mining revenue recoverable from mining companies, neither during the normal course of their work, nor after non-compliances were pointed out by Internal Audit Wing and CAG auditors.

For more details see ‘CAG Audit points out Loss of Mining Revenue in Odisha’. If this is not blatant non-compliance of environmental laws abated by forest bureaucracy who walks an extra mile to extend undue favours to mining companies what else is?

 

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