Move to dereserve forest under scan

Did an error in a cabinet note lead to the mess in illegal mining that Karnataka faces today, is a crucial question the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court will consider, when it visits Karnataka as part of its investigation on illegal mining.

The CEC, in its letter to the state government, has called for details regarding the de-reservation of certain areas, including forest areas for mining by the State Cabinet in 2003. The move dereserved 13 blocks over an extent of 2,670 sq km of forest area. The dereservation order was controversial as several of the blocks included reserved forest areas. The petitioners, Samaj Parivarthana Samudaya, allege that the dereservation was ordered on the basis of a misleading Cabinet note prepared by then Secretary (Mines) Ashok Dalwai.

While preparing the Draft Cabinet Note, Dalwai stated that “the de-reservation is mostly in respect of non-forest areas and not so thick forest area…..” This was reiterated in the draft Cabinet Note proposed by Secretary, Commerce and Industries “The forest area proposed for de-reservation along with non-forest area is that which is bereft of any forest cover.”

In 2002, Dalwai had written in the draft Cabinet note that “The forest area proposed for de-reservation along with non-forest area is that which is bereft of any forest cover.”  However, as the 2008 Lokayukta report on illegal mining notes, the forests were anything but bereft of forest cover.

The report notes that unlike stated by the above two officers, some blocks proposed to be de-reserves, have thick vegetative cover. Later, it points that as per a study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the blocks included for dereservation had substantial forest cover.

The move to de-reserve was taken following the decision of the Centre in 1993 to liberalise the iron ore sector. Until 1993, the Indian government had imposed restrictions on the states for providing grant of new areas for exploitation, and reserved them for the public sector

The CEC is scheduled to land here on March 25. After a meeting with the Chief Secretary and other officers, the CEC will visit Bellary on March 26 and 27. The committee will then return to Bangalore to hold another meeting with the Chief Secretary and other officers.

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