The suspension of the two former Divisional Forest Officers (DFOs) of Keonjhar over the multi-crore Uliburu mining scam has brought to the fore Odisha Government’s tendency of picking on soft targets instead of cracking down on actual culprits.
While the district administration has been largely spared by the State Government even though a full-fledged steel plant was operating in Barbil using the illegally raised ore in its knowledge, the two DFOs have been made scapegoats for raising iron ore from 6.39-hectare of Uliburu reserve forest.
The illegal mining concerned two areas, including revenue forest and reserve forest. The revenue forest included 24.31 hectares of “gramya jungle kisam” and another revenue non-forest measured 4.81 hectares, the reserve forest measured about 6.39 hectares.
“If the DFOs can be held responsible for Deepak Gupta encroaching the reserve forest and raising ore, how come the administration of Keonjhar district not come under scrutiny for encroachment of the revenue forests which come under its direct control?” sources in the Steel and Mines department said. The Vigilance FIR names only a Revenue Inspector for his connivance, while the rest in the hierarchy have been clearly overlooked.
In the codal provision of the Odisha Forest Act, it is the duty of the forest guard and forester to keep tabs on the reserve forest under their jurisdiction since they are entrusted with the responsibility as per their position in the hierarchy.
The suspension of the two former DFOs for failing to notice the shifting of demarcation pillars of Uliburu reserve forest by those conducting illegal mining is seen only an eyewash by the Government to take a moral high ground during the Assembly session and ensuing ULB polls.
Interestingly, in the revoked mining lease area of Jagdish Mishra, the Vigilance team had found two crushers, a crusher operating room, electric transformer, guard room and one weigh bridge though permission was given for installation of the crushers.
Gupta had also taken permission from Nesco to install a transformer in the mining lease area of B K Mohanty.
All this could not have been possible without the district administration’s knowledge, but the Government has chosen to look the other way.