MoEFCC sends Central team to investigate AM/NS India’s FCA violation in Hazira, Surat

Shrawan Kumar, a senior IFS officer with the MoEFCC, investigated the allegations raised by Naik in his complaint to the ministry by visiting the Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) office in Adajan and the steel plant operated by AM/NS India


Surat :  Following the representation by Darshan Naik, general secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), alleging blatant violations of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) dispatched a team led by a senior IFS officer to assess the situation at Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India’s (AM/NS India) steel plant in Hazira.

Shrawan Kumar, a senior IFS officer with the MoEFCC, investigated the allegations raised by Naik in his complaint to the ministry by visiting the Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) office in Adajan and the steel plant operated by AM/NS India. A detailed report will be submitted to the MoEFCC by the team.

According to sources, the central team visited the CCF office in Surat’s Adajan area and met with DCF, Anand Kumar, regarding the alleged violations by the AM/NS India on forest department-owned land in Hazira. The Central team is believed to have chastised DCF, Surat, for their inaction regarding the alleged encroachment by AM/NS India.

The Central MoEFCC team is believed to have recorded the statements of AM/NS India officials and the Surat forest department regarding the allegations made by Darshan Naik.

Previously, AM/NS India issued a press statement informing the MoEFCC’s approval under Section 2 of the FCA, 1980 for land use change for the 27.02 hectare and 37.71 hectare of reserved forest land at Hazira village for the construction of raw material facilities and utilities, as well as the 300 MW power plant, via letter dated January 2, 2023.

According to AM/NS India, the Gujarat government handed over possession of the land in March 2022 upon payment of the required dues, and the purpose of steelmaking remains unchanged.

The assistant DG (Forest), MoEFCC, had suggested that the Principal Secretary (Forest), Government of Gujarat, investigate the issue raised by Darshan Naik in his letter dated December 29, 2022 for the alleged violation and illegal construction by AM/NS India on forest land in Hazira on January 10, 2023. However, on January 2, the AM/NS India distributed the MoEFCC’s letter of approval.

Naik claimed that Surat Forest Department officials either did not physically visit the site for factual examination or purposefully concealed or turned a blind eye to much vital information.

According to Naik’s representation to the MoEFCC, AM/NS India has already begun and completed many structural and piling works at the site location of the Forest & Non-Forest Lands for which approvals are currently being granted. Before they even proposed it, the Main Receiving Sub Station (MRSS) Unit was already built on 27.02 Hac.

AM/NS (formerly Essar Limited) has already extended a portion of land to their oxygen gas supplier M/s. INOX for the production of Industrial Gas. This Gas Unit has been running their Plant since 2007. This parcel of land is also disputed, and neither the former Essar nor the current occupant AM/NS has a legal claim to it. According to Naik, Surat Forest Department officials did not bring this to the attention of the MoEFCC.

According to Naik, Essar (now AM/NS India) has usurped and taken additional portions of forest and non-forest lands to establish the Nand-Niketan Township residential area. The township was surveyed in 2006 and discovered to be spread across an area of 20.76 hectares, which was much larger than the actual allocation.

Later that year, the government imposed a penalty on the occupant, requiring them to pass-on or surrender five times the amount of land they had occupied. The Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Land) served notice on Essar on August 31, 2019, but the occupant never responded. It’s amazing why the Forest-Department has given the company preferential treatment.

According to Naik, the land spared by AM/NS in Andho, Kutch, in comparison to the current allocations of 27.2 and 37.71 hectares of forest land, is also subject to ownership disputes and is not title-clear land, which must be investigated. Many areas/portions of land are still under unauthorised occupation by the AM/NS, and local Forest officials have turned a blind eye. This needs to be thoroughly investigated.

“AM/NS India is acting as the white-collar land grabber. “Around 100% of the forest land has been encroached upon by illegal construction,” Naik said. “An acre of land in Hazira costs anywhere between Rs 6 crore and Rs 6.5 crore. The company (AM/NS India) that encroached on the forest land is paying the government a penalty of Rs 1 crore per hectare. This is how the company is encroaching on land in Hazira.”

The Blunt Times contacted the corporate communications department of AM/NS India to share information on the visit of Central team of MoEFCC. Till writing of this report, AM/NS India is yet to send an official reply on the queries raised by us.