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Dept action against 10 DFOs
Rituraj Borthakur
 GUWAHATI, May 22 - The State forest department has ordered departmental proceedings against 10 divisional forest officers (DFOs) who headed the Digboi division and a few range officers of Lekhapni where illegal mining continued in forest areas for over 17 years.

Having given the Stage I clearance to Coal India Limited for open cast mining at Tikok, the Centre had set 28 conditions which had to be fulfilled before the final Stage II clearance is given after which mining can be carried out.

Among the 28 conditions, one is that the authorities concerned need to furnish an action taken report against the erring officials under the nose of whom the illegal mining was going on since 2003.

After inquiries had confirmed illegal coal mining in the Saleki PRF (proposed reserve forest), the DIG (Central) of Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change had asked the State government to furnish the names of all senior forest officers and Coal India officials who worked in that area since 2003.

Names of over 15 officers, including DFOs, range officers and Coal India GMs, were sent to the Central government.

The 30-year lease given to Coal India for operating in that area had expired in 2003. However, the agency allegedly continued illegal mining even after that without getting the lease extension in rampant violation of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. According to a forest department report, Coal India had been carrying out mining in an area of 54.2 hectares till recently.

Confirming that none of the forest officials acted against the illegal activities, a forest department source said the Additional PCCF (Upper Assam Zone) has been asked to draw departmental proceedings against 10 DFOs and the range officers concerned who had headed the Digboi division during that period.

Action against the Coal India officials will be taken by the mines department.

Interestingly, for the last six months, there is no full-fledged DFO in the sensitive forest division.

For its Tikok Open Cast Project, Coal India has sought clearance for diverting 98.59 hectares of forest land in the Saleki RF.

The Central government has information that illegal coal mining in the form of rat-hole mining has been taking place since long in some of the reserve forests and proposed reserve forests of Digboi Division. The forests where such rat-hole mining has been noticed for over a period of over 10 years are Namphai Tipong, Tinkopani Tirap, Tirap Saleki, Tipong and Lekhapani.

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