SHILLONG, Dec 26 � Close to 50 per cent of the land under nine cement plants in Meghalaya are �forest�, said a report of the Joint Inspection Team (JIT) constituted under the directive of the Supreme Court.
The JIT, comprise additional principal chief conservator of forest, Ministry of Environment and Forest, BN Jha, CP Marak, chief conservator of forest, State Forest and Environment department and other officials from Revenue, district administration, police, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, cement companies, etc.
The team inspected the land held by nine cement companies and stated in its report � �Out of the 2,150 hectare of land inspected by the team, 838 hectare are forest, 1254 hectare non forest and 58 hectare remained unresolved.� The team could not, however, inspect another 1,142 hectare under the cement plants. The inspections were carried out in three phases between March to June this year.
The nine companies include, Adhunik Cement Limited, Amrit Cement Industries Limited, Cement Manufacturing Compnay Limited, Cosmos Cement Limited, Green Valley Industries Limited, Goldstone Cement Limited, Hills Cement Compnay Limited, JUD Cements Limited and Meghalaya Cement Limited and are based in Jaintia Hills district.
Further, the report stated that it is of utmost importance that an �independent surveying agency� must immediately assess the mine area of these cement plants as most mines �prime facie are larger in extent than shown in map or lease grant to them.�
The team cited that the cement plants have showed the mines under five hectare as because a mine larger than five hectare would require environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
�Proper and permanent demarcation of lease holds is not found in many cases. Therefore confirmation of the extent of the area exceed by the individual company, though may be time tasking and an enormous exercise, but is an immediate requirement to be undertaken by an independent surveying agency which will clarify as to which company on the ground has mine five hectare, requiring EC clearance as none of the company presently obtained it for their active mines,� the report stated.
The report added that most of the companies are in the last phase of their plants� construction and therefore changing the physical feature of the land to the extent where �evidence of its past nature are lost� making the task of ascertaining seem more difficult.
The joint team regretted that it faced difficulty during its inspection as there was �no definition of forest� in Meghalaya. Moreover, there were �no cadastral maps or any other revenue maps in state available for forested tract in Jaintia Hills district.�
It had to rely on notes and reports of District Forest Officer Jaintia Hills division giving NOCs and JHADC issuing certificates to the cement companies for each and every piece of land that they are either �non forest or not recorded as forest in any records maintained by JHADC or land cannot be defined as forest by dictionary meaning etc.�
The report cited that JHADC in fact �has no record of village or community forest etc, which constitute a major portion of natural forest.�
The JIT was constituted after a Supreme Court verdict in July 2011 which directed that: � if a project proponent makes a claim regarding status of the land being non forest and if there is any doubt the site shall be inspected by the state forest department along with regional office of MoEF��