The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), in its audit of the diversion of forestlands, has cited some high-profile cases as case studies and examples of how government forestlands were handed over to industry in violation of laws, at times providing large financial gains to these entities.

The CAG has not quantified the gains made by such entities.

These corporate entities include miners in Goa and Karnataka, Reliance Power and Tata Steel, besides many others. These names have come out of selective test checks and not a comprehensive audit of all individual clearance files.

In the case of Sasan Power Limited, the CAG records that it was illegally exempted from providing 1,384.96 hectares of non-forestland in lieu of the forest area it was given for construction of its power plant and linked coal mines. The Union Ministry for Environment and Forests did not pursue the case and the Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary gave an ineligible certificate exempting Reliance’s special purpose vehicle from handing over revenue land to the State as compensation. Instead the company was asked to carry out afforestation over double the area in degraded government forestlands. The final approval was given in May 2010. The Environment Ministry never verified whether the afforestation on degraded land was ever carried out.

In a statement, Reliance said the cost of acquiring non-forestland for compensatory afforestation would eventually be borne by the consumers, therefore the benefit of this exemption did not accrue to the company.

The audit test checks have revealed that mining companies operated without much monitoring of conditions with the States renewing leases without permission and lands continuing to lie with miners beyond legitimate periods.