Friday, April 25, 2014

Kamal Nath overrules environment secy, grants 500 hectares to builders as parting gift

Two Congressmen — Union urban development minister Kamal Nath and Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda — on Friday hijacked the NCR planning board meeting despite stiff resistance from senior bureaucrats and signed an order converting 10 lakh hectares of forest land into a "natural conservation zone".
Nath and Hooda showed the door to environment secretary Dr V Rajagopalan and his team as they had vehemently opposed Nath's attempt to change the 'land use' of the prime forest land spread over Faridabad, Gurgaon and Aravali hills.
"You are not a member of the NCR planning board. So, your comments are not required," Hooda is learnt to have told Rajagopalan. And Nath is understood to have said: "If the environment ministry has any problem with our decision, they can approach the court."
Rajagopalan apparently walked out after heated arguments. In his written comments, he strongly objected to the forest being converted to a natural conservation zone. "The Supreme Court judgment on forest clearly says that a hectare of land, with 10 per cent area under canopy will be declared as forest land and its status cannot be changed. And here it is 10 lakh hectares of forest land," he wrote.
As reported by dna first, Natural Conservation Zone regulations permit construction on 0.5 per cent land for tourism purposes. Thus 0.5 per cent of 10 lakh hectares comes to 500 hectares of land. The catch is Kamal Nath is opening the doors for builders' lobby to grab 500 hectares of prime land in Gurgaon, Faridabad and the Aravali hills.
Conservative estimates of the government peg price of 500 hectares of land at over Rs50,000 crore. The NCR planning board meeting fell short of quorum. There should be at least five members of the board present for approving or amending a plan. In Friday's meeting, four members, including Nath and Hooda, were present. Nath urgently called minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation Girija Vyas to complete the quorum.
In their desperation, Hooda arrived for the NCR planning board meeting half-an-hour before the scheduled time. And Nath too reached dot on time to initiate the meeting. The Election Commission had allowed Nath to hold the meeting, but had prohibited him from taking any policy decision owing to the model code of conduct. Still, the NCR planning board went ahead and approved a major land use change in the Haryana sub region plan.
Nath and Hooda's hastiness is evident from the fact that the high court of Punjab and Haryana had put a stay on the state for issuing any new licences to builders. The court had said that the state should first make land available for construction. In one stroke, 500 hectares of land is up for grab and thus it also opens the door for the Haryana government to issue new licences to builders.
As reported by dna, Nath's name had surfaced in a conversation with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. Tarun Das, the former chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), told Radia over the phone that he had pitched "big time" for Nath for the surface transport portfolio. "Highway construction and road construction is a big priority. He (Kamal Nath) is a doer. He can make his 15% in this. You can do national service and also make money…", Das said in the tapes. Radia had responded: "This (surface transport ministry under Nath) is still an ATM."