Withhold the approvals accorded to AM/NS India for forest land in Hazira: Darshan Naik to 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


Surat (Gujarat) : Darshan Naik, general secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), has urged the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to revoke the approvals granted to Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India (AM/NS India) for alleged violations of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

The demand comes a day after 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, the AM/NS India distributed the letter of approval issued by the MoEFCC on January 2.

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 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. The Main Receiving Sub Station (MRSS) Unit had already been built on 27.02 Hac before they even proposed it.

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 operating their Plant since 2007. This portion of land is also disputed, and the former Essar or current occupant AM/NS has no legal claim to it. According to Naik, this was not brought to the attention of local Forest Department officials.

According to Naik, Essar (now AM/NS India) has usurped and taken extra portions of forest and non-forest lands to establish the Nand-Niketan Township residential area. The township was surveyed in 2006 and was found 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 land they had occupied. On August 31, 2019, the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Land) served notice on Essar, but the occupant never responded. It’s amazing why the Forest-Department has granted the company special treatment.

Furthermore, a joint survey conducted by the State Government’s Revenue and Forest departments in 2021 found the company’s illegal encroachment on approximately 57.0 hectares of land, but no action has been taken against them to date.

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 must be thoroughly investigated.

“It is intriguing as to how MoEFCC accorded approvals to AM/NS India’s proposals without making physical site examinations. The granting of approval appears to have been done after the fact in order to regularise the encroacher, an offender. “This is a gross violation of the set-up norms and goes against natural justice towards a violator,” Naik said.