CAG report uncovers forestland scam, says government lost thousands of crores

The Comptroller and Auditor General in its latest report has unearthed a massive scam involving forestlands being given over to industry without following laid down regulations — in violation of Supreme Court orders and forest laws — and involving large-scale misuse of funds leading to a loss to the government running into thousands of crores. The report blames some of the highest officials of the environment ministry as well as the States for these scams.

The report is on the policy of compensatory afforestation — handing over forestlands for development and industrial projects in exchange for forests being grown on alternative lands and collection of ‘net present value’ of the diverted lands from the industries. The report was laid in Parliament on Friday.

Under Supreme Court orders, the government notified the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to oversee the process. The government was to collect funds from projects wishing to use forest lands based on rates set for different classes of forests, called the Net Present Value. These funds were then to be spent on greening other parts of the country in lieu of the forests handed over.

But the CAG has found a countrywide scam in the operations of CAMPA funds, the handing over of forests to industries and in the use of the collected money — which had grown to Rs. 23,607.67 crores by the end of 2012. The period of survey includes the time when the PMO held the environment and forests portfolio, then Jairam Ramesh and part of Jayanthi Natarajan’s existing tenure.

The CAG has noted that against the forestlands handed over to development projects, 1,03,381.91 hectares of non-forestlands were to be converted to forests. Out of this only 28,086 or 27% were received and out of this compensatory afforestation was carried out over a mere 7,280.84 hectares — just 7% of the land that ought to have been received.

The auditor’s test checks of records also found that 1,022 proposals involving forest land measuring 2.54 lakh hectare had not complied with the clearance conditions for more than five years and, yet, as per law their clearances were never revoked or rejected.

Clearances were given in violation of Supreme Court orders and the government’s regulations by some of the highest officers of the ministry in several cases that the CAG detected during test checks.

Through test checks (and not a full scrutiny), the CAG also found that thousands of crores of afforestation funds was never collected.