Bhubaneswar, August 22 (Odisha.in) Why Dr. Hurshikesh Panda who joined as principal secretary of Orissa’s department of forest and environment in last June was transferred to another department in August, working just 75 days?
While a top government official describes it as a routine transfer, some insiders disclose that miners and industrialists have allegedly played a role.
The miners and industrialists were allegedly aggrieved after Panda reportedly started making enquiries about the illegal mining which is going on in Keonjhar district by powerful mining groups who make hundreds of crores of profits every year from iron ore and chromite mining, sources said.
Panda, known for his honest and no nonsense approach reportedly made it clear to the department officials that he would not brook any laxity in enforcement of the forest and environmental laws and that no company was above law.
The mining groups reportedly realised that with Mr. Panda in charge, no violations would be tolerated and their windfall gains from the mining boom could nosedive!
This angered several mining groups, some of which are owned reportedly by ruling party men. It is learnt that this lobby reportedly worked hard and managed to convince the Chief Minister who also holds the forest portfolio to shunt out Panda though he had worked for only 75 days only!
“The forest department is totally controlled and run by mining groups. No forest clearance for mining is ever refused even if it is located in ecologically sensitive areas, including proposed wildlife sanctuaries” wild life expert Biswajit Mohanty alleged.
The state government came under Opposition fire which accused it for permitting Vedanta group to mine on the top of a sacred hill at Niyamgiri which was also proposed as a wildlife sanctuary since it had tigers and elephants.
However, wildlife activists fought back by filing a case in the Supreme Court and the company has yet to obtain clearance for mining of bauxite. Several fact finding committees have confirmed that the area is rich in wildlife and no mining should be permitted there.
The forest department had agreed to permit mining at Niyamgiri after the Company offered Rs.42 crores for wildlife management!
In fact, since the last 5-6 years, mining companies have been freely granted permission to mine after they acceded to officer’s demands and handed over luxurious cars for the use of the department’s senior officials based at Bhubaneswar.
A recent government reply to the RTI (Right to information act) application filed by Mohanty revealed that the shining cars used by the department’s officers have been given by mining companies.
Tisco, Jindal, Kaypee Enterprises, etc. are some of the companies which have given AC Ambassadors, Boleros and Scorpios for the use of the department’s officials. Even PSUs like NALCO and MCL were not spared by greedy officers.
Mohanty angrily protests: “The department officials have lost all sense of propriety and ethics. How can they ever demand and accept vehicles from user agencies whom they are supposed to control and regulate?
This is an incestuous relationship and should end forthwith. They should return the vehicles immediately, if they have any sense of shame,” he demanded.
“No wonder they clear mining proposals quickly and I have yet to see them turning down a single mining proposal.
The elephants of Keonjhar and Sundergarh are on the sure path to extinction thanks to the forest department who have forgotten that they are paid from the public exchequer to protect the wildlife of our state,” he remarked.
Mohanty supplied the document to odisha.in which reveals that the vehicles were obtained against specific forest diversion proposals for mining purposes which makes it clear that there was direct relationship with the donation and the permission granted by the forest officials for clearing forests for that particular mine.
Interestingly, Mr. Panda refused to use a new Ambassador car donated by Tisco and preferred to ride an older government vehicle.
In fact, he had decided to enquire into the circumstances under which the forest officers had procured more than 17 vehicles for use in Bhubaneswar city before he was shunted out.