Ignoring FAC, Jairam decisions land Jayanthi in trouble?

Ignoring the advice of a top official and overlooking the rejection of a proposal by Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) despite Prime Minister’s Office forwarding it appears to have put former Union Jayanthi Natarajan in trouble.

Natarajan is facing a CBI investigation in a case of abuse of official position and indulging in corruption by permitting the diversion of 55.79 hectares in Saranda Forest in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum for mining by Electosteel Casting Ltd.

The former Minister could not be contacted for her comments, even as CBI conducted searches at her premises in Chennai as well as that of other accused on Saturday.

According to the CBI FIR, the proposal was rejected twice by the FAC and once by her predecessor Jairam Ramesh. Second time, the FAC considered the matter after the PMO forwarded the application it received from the ECL asking it to consider it and take “appropriate action” when Ramesh was the Minister.

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The first proposal for diverting 192.50 hectares for mining iron and manganese ores was sent in January 2006 following which the Ministry of Mines asked Jharkhand government to ensure that Forest Conservation Act and other rules are followed.

The FAC had first rejected the proposal seeking approval for diversion of 55.79 out of 192.50 hectares of forest land for non-forestry use in October 2008 after Jharkhand government sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Its contention was that the proposed mining area was part of core zone of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and critical to Wildlife Conservation.

The ECL again submitted a proposal in May 2009, which the FAC did not take up in its August meeting. The Jharkhand government then approached then minister Ramesh in September 2009. However in April 2010, Ramesh said there was no need for reconsideration.

Three months later in 2010, the ECL petitioned the PMO, which forwarded it to the Ministry and again the FAC rejected it. The Planning Commission also sought a report from the Ministry, which provided the facts of the rejection by the FAC twice.

In July 2011, Natarajan took over the Ministry and a month later, ECL Managing Director Umang Kejriwal met her. After receiving information from the state on the project, she gave approval though the then Director General of Forests and Special Secretary advised her to refer the proposal to FAC, the FIR said.

Natarajan, it claimed, approved the proposal “without any change in the circumstances” after it was previously “rejected earlier” by her predecessor. “Besides, this approval had been accorded without adhering to the advice of the DGF&SS and against directions of Supreme Court,” the FIR added.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 11, 2017)

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