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RTI activist alleges corruption in Forest dept over coal mining
AJIT PATOWARY
 GUWAHATI, May 23 - RTI and environment activist Rohit Choudhury has alleged that largescale corruption was taking place in the office of the State’s Principal Conservator of Forests and the Head of the State’s Forest Force (PCCF & HoFF) on matters related to coal mining in the Digboi Forest Division.

In a complaint lodged with Assam’s Additional Director General of Police (Vigilance and Anti-Corruption) on February 6, 2020, Choudhury alleged that over the last several years, rampant illegal coal mining was taking place in the Namphai and Tinkupani Reserve Forests, which are thick rainforests with rich biodiversity, with the collusion of corrupt forest officials of Assam.

“These Reserve Forests of Digboi Forest Division, which were known once for their exceptional biodiversity, have been reduced to sources of illegal coal mines with depots and loading points everywhere. It is reported that these RFs are inhabited by wild elephants and in utter disregard to the conservation of the mega herbivores, rampant mining of coal, using heavy machinery has been going on with complete knowledge of forest officials of Digboi Forest Division and Assam Forest Department and this has been going on for quite a long time in return for the pecuniary benefits from mining mafia,” Choudhury said in his complaint.

Choudhury urged the ADGP to investigate the matter and take necessary action against all those who are part of these illegal mining activities.

In his complaint, he also said that he had filed an RTI application on September 24, 2019 with the office of the PCCF & HoFF requesting for a copy of the enquiry report filed by the officers after a field visit on July 3 and 4, 2019 to the Digboi Forest Division.

But he was denied a copy of the report by the office of the PCCF & HoFF, citing Section 8(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. The office of the PCCF & HoFF argued that “the enquiry report in question is only (of) a preliminary investigation, and process is also underway for further detailed inquiry. In view of this, sharing the PE report at this stage may impede the process of further enquiry. Hence, the report could not be shared as per Sec 8(h) of RTI Act, 2005.”

Choudhury said Section 8(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 states clearly, “the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.” In reply to his first appeal dated October 31, 2019 also, the office of the PCCF & HoFF had again denied him the report citing the same reason and same Section of the RTI Act.

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