Officers, contractor involved in large scale illegal felling of trees remain unpunished

No taker of SIC recommendation for in-depth inquiry

Probe imperative in view of conflicting replies on reports

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, May 20: Officers of the Social Forestry Department and a contractor, who were involved in large-scale illegal felling of trees in Kathua district, have remained unpunished as no in-depth inquiry has been ordered by the Government despite explicit recommendation in this regard by the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission.
The illegal felling of trees came to the fore during the proceedings under 2nd Appeal before the State Information Commission when reports submitted by a committee of officers-Deputy Director, Forest Protection Force, Gamma Unit J-4 Billawar, Divisional Forest Officer, Billawar Forest Division and Divisional Forest Officer, Social Forestry Division Basohli and Tehsildar Mahanpur were taken on record.
The committee of forest officers in its report submitted to the Chief Conservator of Forests, Jammu had mentioned that a total of 15,274 trees were felled against the sanctioned extraction of 6036 trees by the contractor.
However, the present DFO Social Forestry Division Kathua Munish Bhardwaj challenged the accuracy of the report during the course of proceedings before the Information Commission on the ground that it was not known whether these trees were felled in the forest area or in private land.
This is notwithstanding the fact that he had signed the report in his capacity as Deputy Director, Forest Protection Force, Gamma Unit J-4 Billawar, the post which he was holding prior to his posting as DFO Social Forestry Division Kathua.
When asked to explain his dual stand, the officer came up with an explanation that he had not personally visited the spot but had sent his Assistant Director in his place and signed the report on the basis of information provided by the Assistant Director.
Not only by the committee of officers, the illegal felling of trees was also highlighted by the Tehsildar Mahanpur, who was deputed to the spot for verification and submission of detailed report by the Deputy Commissioner Kathua on the basis of complaints against the contractor Ashok Kumar.
On detailed examination of reports of Tehsildar Mahanpur and committee of forest officers, the State Information Commission noted that the contractor had not only felled 15274 trees against the allotted quota of 6036 trees but he had also felled 1329 trees of 0-10 dia class in blatant violation of the approved work order.
Observing that brazen loot of green gold would not have been possible without active support and connivance of the concerned forest officials, the Commission had recommended that Administrative Secretary, Forest Department, being the head of the Public Authority at the State level, shall order an inquiry into the issue of felling of standing trees in excess of the sanctioned/allotted quantity in favour of the contractor Ashok Kumar.
The Commission had desired that the inquiry committee shall go into the issue of not taking any action by the department on the reports submitted by Tehsildar Mahanpur and the committee of forest officers in order to fix the responsibility.
Though one month has lapsed since the making of recommendation by the Information Commission yet no inquiry has been ordered by the Administrative Secretary of the Forest Department, official sources told EXCELSIOR, adding “acting on the recommendation of the Information Commission may not be a binding but keeping in view large scale plunder of green wealth of the State it was moral responsibility of the Government to act tough against the contractor and the erring officers by immediately instituting an inquiry”.
When contacted, Director Social Forestry Neelu Gera said, “we have not received any communication from the Administrative Department regarding holding of inquiry as recommended by the Information Commission”.
Even Regional Director Social Forestry Department Dr Kumar M K expressed ignorance about Government decision on the recommendation of Information Commission.
“Due to inaction on the recommendation of the transparency watchdog the contractor as well as officers, who had connived for illegal felling of trees have remained unpunished till date”, sources said, adding “the prevailing situation is notwithstanding the fact that copy of the decision of the Information Commission was also forwarded to the Chief Secretary for his information and appropriate orders keeping in view the gravity of the issue involved”.