By Sandeep Pai | Place: Ranchi | Agency: DNA
The Union government’s environmental clearance for 1,220 acres of forest land to be allotted to Reliance Power Limited’s 4,000MW Tilaiya Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) in Jharkhand is at the centre of a controversy. Senior forest department officials said the Centre has wilfully ignored laws regarding diverting forest land for industrial use.
Approvals for granting of forest land spread over 4,305.8 acres for the Keredari B & C coal blocks as well as for the 90 acres required for a water corridor and road development are currently in the pipeline. Forest officials have written numerous letters to the Centre demanding that Reliance provide non-forest land as compensation for diverting forest land for the coal block and power plant, as mandated under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
According to officials, Reliance must provide 5,600 acres of alternative land in lieu of approvals for land that the UMPP requires. This also includes the 1,220 acres to compensate land for which approval has already been granted.
“Only the central government or public sector undertakings are granted relief under the Forest Conservation Act. Therefore, granting the same status to Reliance is against the rules. Reliance must be made to provide alternative land for the coal block and the power project,” said Babulal Marandi, former chief minister of Jharkhand and former minister of state for environment and forests at the Centre.
The question is whether the Centre granted clearance to Reliance or to a special purpose vehicle wholly owned by PSU Power Finance Corporation. The SPV, Jharkhand Integrated Power Ltd, was set up as per the UMPP policy of the Union government as a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Finance Corporation. As per the policy, it is the SPV that initiates action for land acquisition and for obtaining various clearances. JIPL floated global tenders following which Reliance was declared a successful bidder.
Thereafter, JIPL was transferred to Reliance. The problem is that approvals are still to be obtained, now by a company owned by Reliance.
According to a press release issued by Reliance, it acquired JIPL in August 2009. However, in an unbelievable lapse, the MoEF’s letter dated November 2010 granting approval for the 1,220 acres says the approval is being granted to JIPL, “a wholly owned subsidiary of PFC”. At this time, JIPL was in fact a fully-owned subsidiary of Reliance, a fact that bureaucrats in the MoEF would have been well aware of.
In fact, JK Tewari, chief conservator of forests for the central region, had written to the additional director general of forests in the MoEF in October 2010, just a month before clearance was granted, explaining why Reliance should be made to give alternative land. “The project has been allotted to Reliance on the principles of build, own and operate (BOO) and not BOOT which is build, own, operate and transfer. After running the project for a specified number of years as per the terms and conditions of the MoU, Reliance will no longer be bound by any conditions and the land and the assets will not be transferred back to the Power Finance Corporation (PFC),” Tewari’s letter said.
“Therefore it is clear that Tilaiya UMPP is held by Reliance and not by the government of India undertaking. Therefore, I am of the view that non-forest area should be provided by the company for the purpose of afforestation,” Tewari’s letter said.
The central government’s move has met with stinging criticism. “These are double standards. The MoEF is not giving environment clearance for the Koyna interstate irrigation project, stating that the Bihar and Jharkhand state governments first provide alternative land for diverting forest land. However, for private players, it goes out its way to give clearance,” said Sushil Kumar Singh, Lok Sabha MP of Janata Dal (United).
Marandi also cited examples of other projects whose clearance has been kept pending for years over the issue of compensating for use of forest land. These include a government primary school in Badidh village of Ganwanblock and the Damodar Valley Corporation’s Chandrapura ash pond, said Marandi, local MP of Koderma, where the UMPP is located.
Despite repeated efforts by DNA since September 25 to obtain a statement from Reliance Power Ltd regarding the dispute, company officials did not comment.
However, in a letter to the divisional forest officer of Hazaribagh (where Tilaiya is located) on July 14, 2012, Reliance argues why it need not provide land. It quotes a December 2006 letter by MK Mondal, then chief secretary of Jharkhand, in which the latter informs the power secretary that identification of compensatory forest land is not required if the project belongs to the central government or its organisations. “Maybe the state government was unaware that the project would not be owned by PFC,” said Vinod Singh, a local MLA from Bagodar in Koderma.
In any case, not many have bought Mondal’s argument.
Coal block: 4,305.8 acre (Under review)
Power Plant: 1,220 acre (Approved)
Road project: 62.3 acre (Under review)
Water corridor: 27.3 acre (Under review)