Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Politician-official nexus in Bastar scam: Panel


BHOPAL, October 10: The committee constituted by the Lok Ayukta at the Supreme Court's instance to inquire into the Malik Makbuja cases in Bastar, has blamed the politician-merchant-bureaucrat nexus for illegal tree felling and exploitation of tribals.

The final report of the committee has since been submitted to the SC. Justice Faizanuddin has noted, while accepting the report, that it is, ``well supported by the evidence of witnesses and other documentary material''. The three-member committee found no evidence of any organised gang or group of persons or mafia involved in the illegal activities. It says the sale and purchase of lands and felling of trees ``are being done by different persons of different class and category, whosoever got opportunity, for their individual benefit. Some families have made it their regular business''.

The report says that the nexus ``between the persons, including persons in politics, and the merchants, with local bureaucrats at all levels is apparent. The role of local officers is a major factor in promoting these activities which make the task of exploitation of forests standing on private lands (Malik Makbuja land) easy, by granting permission to cut the trees, frequently and liberally''.

The committee, comprising retired district and sessions judge R C Sharma (chairman), former secretary to the Madhya Pradesh Government Prakash Chandra and former chief conservator of forests K K R Naidu, was constituted in April last, pursuant to the SC directive of March 5, 1997.

The SC was approached by S R Hiremath, president of the National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources with the support of the Ekta Parishad, Madhya Pradesh, through an interlocutory application in a writ petition.The application prayed for keeping check on the wanton destruction of forests and exploitation of poor tribals by a nexus of bureaucrats, politicians and timber merchants in Bastar district.

Besides asking the Lok Ayukta to inquire into the allegations of illegal tree felling in Bastar,the Apex Court also directed a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry on January 7 this year.

The direction came after the MP Government had submitted that it would not be able to do what was required in the light of the (interim) report of the Lok Ayukta ``because of certain constraints''.

The committee's interim report had detailed the role of the Netam family (MP minister Shiv Netam's wife and his brother Virendra) in the Malik Makbuja scandal. The final report brings out how former member of Parliament from Bastar Mahendra Karma and Bharatiya Janata Party Member of the Legislative Assembly Rajaram Todam used their political clout in influencing bureaucrats to make a fast buck.

The report also notes that there was a significant spurt in the Malik Makbuja cases, contributing to the destruction of forests and severe exploitation of tribals during the tenure of Narayan Singh as commissioner of Bastar division.

The SC has forwarded the 236-page report to the CBI for making it a part of itsinvestigation.

The committee has suggested amendments in some laws like the MP Land Revenue Code, 1959 and the MP Protection of Aboriginal Tribes (Interest in Trees) Act, 1956.

The committee has also recommended that the sale of timber by the Bhumiswamis (land owners) should be brought into the ambit of income tax act and it should be made mandatory for the forest department to deduct income tax at source at the time of making payment.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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