SHILLONG, Feb 14 � There is a dark secret emerging from the whispering pines of Meghalaya, with government officials allegedly buying a hillock of pine forest from �fictitious� landowners, but not before overvaluing the property.
The deal relates to the purchase of a hillock at Mawpalai near Sumer on the Guwahati-Shillong Road in Ri-Bhoi district and claimed by �fictitious� landowners.
But what is undisputed is the hundreds of pine trees on the hillock were planted and maintained by the Soil Conservation department from the early 50s when Meghalaya was part of Assam.
Initially, the land was thought to be about 1.78 square kilometres, but on proper GPS survey it turned out to measure 0.95 square kilometres. Sources told The Assam Tribune that the government wanted to purchase the land from the claimants so that the pine forest could be maintained and in 2009 a committee was formed to facilitate the purchase of the hillock.
The committee dubbed �Inter Department Negotiating Committee� was constituted with the then Commissioner and Secretary Forest and Environment department as Chairman, Additional District Magistrate, Ri-Bhoi district and officials from Revenue and Law department constituting the other members. The Chief Conservator of Forest (T) was the convenor.
The price of the land was fixed at Rs 50 per square meter and accordingly the compensation to the landowners who claimed ownership over the property was fixed at Rs 4.61 crore. In the meantime, the Forest department deposited Rs 10 crore with the Deputy Commissioner (Revenue), Ri-Bhoi district.
Instead of paying the compensation of Rs 4.61 crore and buying the land, the Committee strangely decided that the trees in the forest, belonging to the Soil and Conservation department, should also come under the compensation package.
�The scam really crossed all limits after the Committee decided to buy the trees without assessing their number, girth and height,� a source said.
Based merely on assumption, the Committee decided that the average girth of the trees was 1.5 meter, which sources say, is totally incorrect and would not be more than 90-100 cms if a scientific measurement is done.
Further, it was assumed that the total wood in the forest was 57,883.1 cubic meters (cmt). The total royalty of the volume of wood was thus calculated at Rs 10.88 crore at a royalty of Rs 2,110 per cmt. The total price of the plot therefore shot up to Rs 15.40 crore from its initial price.
Sources say the trees in the plot would not cost more than a crore of rupees if properly assessed and that should not be added to the land cost as the trees belonged to the Forest department.
Meanwhile, the faulty valuation report has been allegedly sent to the Deputy Commissioner of Ri-Bhoi district and based on its estimate the payments were made to the �fictitious� landowners last year and another Rs 2 crore is being demanded.