Forest land to Essar: Guj HC asks Centre to decide in 4 weeks

Forest land to Essar: Guj HC asks Centre to decide in 4 weeks Ahmedabad: Gujarat High Court Friday directed the Central Government to decide within four weeks the issue of granting approval to the allocation of forest land to Essar Steel Ltd (ESL) near Hazira in Surat district.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala, while disposing of a PIL challenging the allocation of forest land measuring 2.07 lakh sq meters, also asked the Gujarat Government to demolish the constructions made by the company at the site if the Centre decides not to grant approval.

The PIL, filed by former Congress MLA Farook Shaikh through advocate Harshil Dholakia, had claimed, "the company has illegally acquired the said land and also constructed housing accommodation and allied employee infrastructure facilities on the encroached land."

He said the land at Suvali village in South Gujarat had a market value of Rs 6,228 crore, but it was sold to the private steel firm at a throwaway price and without inviting any tender, thus causing "a big loss to the state exchequer".

Seeking HC directions to quash the decision of State Government to allot the land to Essar, the petitioner claimed the allocation was done without the Centre's prior approval.

Without granting the prayer of declaring the allotment as illegal and demolish the constructions, HC asked the Centre to decide the issue of whether to grant an approval to the allotment of forest land to ESL within two weeks from Friday.

However, after pronouncement of the order Additional Solicitor General Pankaj Champaneri made a request for six weeks' time to take a decision, to which HC gave four weeks.

"In case the Central Government decides not to grant approval within four weeks, State Government shall demolish the constructions (on the land) in the next six weeks," said the Bench.

PTI