The state has ordered 148.59 hectares of forest land in Gondia district, Vidarbha to be "diverted" for the construction of a 1980 megawatt (MW) coal-based thermal power plant run by the Adani Group.
The tract was identified for the project by the Ahmedabad-based conglomerate in 2008, but final permissions were granted by the Narendra Modi-led government on August 28 this year. Following this, the state forest department issued an order on October 20, mandating that the land be set aside for the plant.
"The proposal with scrutiny and recommendation was sent by the State to the Centre. The net present value of the plot was also paid and the money for afforestation was given to the state. The Centre cleared the project, then we issued orders for diversion of forest land," Additional principal chief conservator of forest Suresh Gairola, who is a nodal officer for clearances to mega projects, said.
A forest department official said the Adani Group, which has interests in energy, logistics and mineral resources, operates an existing power plant of 3300 MW capacity in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) sector of Tiroda, Gondia, about 1,000 km to the northeast of Mumbai. "They wanted to expand this plant and after searching for land, they found a 148.59 hectares parcel in Tiroda tehsil," he said.
A certificate issued by the collector of Gondia on June 14, 2008 states that "all other alternatives for a thermal power plant had been explored and there is no alternative non-forest land available for the purpose". The collector determined that parcels in Gorada, Mendipur, Kachewani and Khairbadi villages taken together would meet the needs of Adani Power Projects, an ancillary concern of the Group (its Energy division comprises Adani Infrastructure, Adani Gas and Adani Power Projects). The correspondence also reveals that the energy major paid the "net present value" of the plot and also took care of financial requisites for compensatory afforestation. The forest advisory committee of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) granted the project in-principle approval on December 9, 2011. Final permissions were issued on August 29, 2014.
The letter from the assistant inspector general, MoEF, M Rajkumar to principal secretary (forests) Maharashtra Praveensinh Pardeshi, dated August 29, 2014, stipulates 17 conditions to be met by Adani Power Before the project takes root, the development of a green belt along the power station and along water channels located in the plant, a restoration plan for wildlife corridors and "proper mitigative measures to minimize soil erosion and choking of streams", are some of the mandated measures.
Forest officials said that the state government submitted its first compliance reports to MoEF on May 30, 2012 and September 25, 2012. But the final compliance statement was only issued two years later, on July 16.Thereafter, MoEF directed the state to set aside forest land for the project. As the model code of conduct was in force ahead of Assembly polls, the department issued orders on October 20, after results were declared.
In response to a question about the delay in acquiring permissions for the power plant, Ajit Barodia, vice-president (Corporate affairs) of Adani group said, "We can't say it (the approval mechanism) was 'stuck'. The government follows a process." When asked if Adani Power Projects had received official word from the government, he said, "Permission was in process. We may have got it." He redirected all further queries to a company spokesperson, who did not respond to a set of emailed questions.