Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress got into a heated argument in Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday over the subject of providing permission to ArcelorMittal Group for the diversion of 65.73-hectare forest area in Surat district.
While the Congress accused the ruling BJP of favouring the corporate group, the ruling party not only criticised the Congress for awarding more forest land diversion during its rule but also stated that everything was done in accordance with the rules in the case of the ArcelorMittal Group.
The matter arose during Question Hour in the House when Congress MLA from Jambusar Sanjay Solanki’s starred question on the subject was taken up for debate.
In response to Solanki’s query, Minister of State for Forest, Environment, and Climate Change Jagdish Panchal stated that the ArcelorMittal group was granted permission under the Forest (Conservation) Act to convert 65.73 hectares of forest land.
Panchal went on to say that the state government also collected Rs 6.93 crore in cash for compensatory afforestation, as well as acquiring 206.38-hectare land as compensation from the company in Kutch district, in accordance with the norms, for authorising diversion of forest land.
Panchal launched an attack on Congress during his response in the House, claiming that the Forest (Conservation) Act was introduced by the Congress government at the Centre under then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“We have provided ArcelorMittal Group 65-hectare land, and the list of land handed to private parties by Congress is far greater,” Panchal remarked.
Panchal went on to say that from 1995 to the present, BJP governments have provided 3,000-odd hectares of land for irrigation, 9,396 hectares for road expansion, and 39,750.59 hectares to farmers from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
C J Chavda, Congress Chief Whip, accused the BJP of favouring ArcelorMittal Group, stating that the business (formerly known as Essar Steel Ltd) had encroached on the site 10 years before it was formally allocated to it.
Shailesh Parmar, Deputy Leader of the Congress, claimed that the government gave ArcelorMittal Group an undue benefit of Rs 4,968 crore while failing to recover the amount of punishment for encroachment at the rate of Rs 10 lakh per acre from it.
Panchal responded to Parmar by stating that the government has collected a fine of Rs 7.5 lakh per hectare from the company for the encroachment.
Panchal further stated that by allowing ArcelorMittal Group to divert forest areas for industrial uses, the government has not granted the corporation ownership rights.
“ArcelorMittal does not have any ownership rights.” The land will continue to be owned by the Forest Service.” Panchal stated that the transfer of forest land to ArcelorMittal Group was also contested in the Gujarat High Court through public interest litigation (PIL), but the court denied the PIL’s demands.
He further stated that two ArcelorMittal Group bids for the diversion of forest area totaling 178.76 hectares are now pending.