Government favoured Reliance Power: CAG

Government favoured Reliance Power: CAG

 The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said that the Environment Ministry has shown undue favours to Reliance Power Limited by granting them two exemptions for the 4,000 MW Sasan ultra-mega power project.

This helped the company to bypass a mandatory legal condition of “compensatory afforestation” on almost 1,400 hectares of non-forest land in Madhya Pradesh, the CAG said.

The first approval for constructing the thermal power plant came in April 2009 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the environment portfolio and the second approval on coal blocks for the project was granted when Jairam Ramesh was in charge of the ministry.

The two in-principal approvals for the project, based on proposals from the Madhya Pradesh government, was granted by the Union ministry in December 2008 and November 2009 when Singh and Ramesh respectively were in charge of the green ministry.

Singh held the environment portfolio between May 17, 2007 and May 27, 2009. Ramesh succeeded him on May 28, 2009  and remained environment minister till July 12, 2011. Incidentally, the controversial allocation of coal blocks took place when the prime minister was in charge of the coal ministry between 2006 and 09. On the instructions of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Central Bureau of Investigation is now probing the coal-block allocations under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

  This time the violations relate to “compensatory afforestation” under which if forest land is diverted for any project, the proponents have to plant trees on same amount of non-forest land, close to the project site, so that forest balance of the area is not disturbed. This is done following a provision in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

The CAG in its latest report, tabled in Parliament on Friday, pointed out that in case of the Sasan ultra-mega power project, Reliance was given exemption to look for 1384.96 hectares of non-forest land on the basis of an “ineligible certificate” issued by the chief secretary (Madhya Pradesh).

While 1064.02 hectare of forest land was diverted for allocation of coal blocks, another 320.94 hectares was required for constructing the mega-power plant.
“The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) not only did not exercise due diligence in ensuring compliance with conditions, but also inexplicably overlooked the deficiencies in the certificate while granting the exemption,” the report said in Parliament on Friday.

The ministry exempted Sasan Power Limited (SPL) from providing equivalent area of non-forest land for compensatory afforestation on the basis of the chief secretary's certificate that no forest land was available in Sidhi district, where the plant is located. This violates the law as in the absence of such land near the project site, the company is to do the "compensatory afforestation" on the same amount of non-forest land identified elsewhere in the state.  

The ministry neither asked the SPL to furnish such a certificate for the entire state nor made efforts to identify equivalent amount of non-forest land in other parts of the state. Instead, it allowed the firm to carry out compensatory afforestation on “double-degraded forest land”, even though it was not eligible for such an extension.
In 2008, the deputy conservator of forests in the Bhopal regional office of the ministry, said forestation on degraded land was not admissible for exemption on the basis of certificate on one district. The ministry, however, “inexplicably overlooked the deficiency”, the watchdog said, adding that the ministry did not exercise “due diligence” in ensuring compliance with stipulated conditions.

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