The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which places the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) firmly in the dock for irregularities in granting forest land to private mining companies in Bellary, also alludes to concealment of information by the Ministry.

The CAG requisitioned 39 files on the diversion of forest land for mining in Sandur taluk in Bellary, but received only 10, says the report. Among the “29 files… not furnished to audit” are several high-profile mining companies that also happened to find prominent place in the damning Lokayukta report of 2011 on the multi-crore mining scam in Bellary.

These include V.S. Lad & Sons (owned by Congress leaders Santosh and Anil Lad), Trident Mining (illegally transported 3 lakh tonnes of iron ore between April and December 2009, according to the Lokayukta’s report) and Vibhutigudda Mines (exported ore illegally after the government’s ban in 2010).

Lack of compliance

In its scrutiny of the 10 files that the MoEF did provide, the CAG found that nine private mining companies had been given final clearances by MoEF even though the companies had not complied with ‘in-principle’ conditions. For instance, these nine companies together had not provided compensatory non-forest land (adding up to 311.8 hectares) for the forest land leased to them as mandated by the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 in the case of forest diversion.

‘Abysmal failure’

In its critique of the Ministry, the CAG says that this lapse is a reflection of the “abysmal failure of the Ministry to put in place a robust system of monitoring to ensure that final clearances were given only after ensuring compliance with all conditions imposed while granting in-principle approval”.

“… it was observed that even after reporting by the Regional Offices, the MoEF did not initiate any action against the defaulting agencies and granted final clearance without ensuring environmental clearance,” says the CAG report.

“MoEF failed to appropriately discharge its responsibility of monitoring of compliance of relating to diversion of forest land,” the report adds.

Forest land was also found to have been diverted for mining without environmental clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. For instance, Mysore Minerals Ltd. was operating without an environmental clearance in forest land of 80.93 ha between 2003 and 2005, and perhaps even longer as “thereafter no records were available”.