Vi­o­la­tions in paddy land con­ver­sion

Costs of short-cir­cuit­ing au­dit and pol­icy con­nect

Governance Now - - PUBLIC FINANCE - Hi­man­shu Upad­hyaya

In June, two cu­ri­ous events took place in Ker­ala. on June 18, a cag of in­dia au­dit re­port on Ker­ala’s Psus en­tered pub­lic do­main. Within a week of this, on June 25, the Ker­ala gov­ern­ment passed an amend­ment to the Ker­ala Paddy lands and Wet­land con­ser­va­tion act, 2008.

The cag’s per­for­mance au­dit of Ker­ala in­dus­trial in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion (Kin­fra) pointed out that the gov­ern­ment of Ker­ala had granted ad­min­is­tra­tive sanc­tions for ac­qui­si­tion of 4,087 acres of land (Kin­fra pro­pos­als had sought sanc­tions for 6,459 acres of land) dur­ing the five-year pe­riod end­ing March 31, 2017. on a close scru­tiny, cag au­di­tors no­ticed that land ac­qui­si­tion in the case of 630 acres (300 acres at Karu­maloor, er­naku­lam; 250 acres at ayyam­puzha, er­naku­lam and 80 acres at edathir­inji, Thissur) had to be dropped by the state gov­ern­ment, since it was found that this would re­sult in vi­o­la­tion of the Ker­ala Paddy lands and Wet­land con­ser­va­tion act, 2008.

even the au­dited en­tity had ex­pressed re­gret of this over­sight dur­ing the sub­mis­sion at the exit con­fer­ence held with cag au­di­tors in Jan­uary 2018. The au­dit re­port that en­tered pub­lic do­main on June 18 men­tions: “dur­ing the exit con­fer­ence, ad­di­tional chief sec­re­tary, depart­ment of in­dus­tries and com­merce stated that vi­o­la­tion of pro­vi­sions of Ker­ala con­ser­va­tion of Paddy lands and Wet­land act, 2008 in land iden­ti­fi­ca­tion should have been avoided.” How­ever, such an an­swer as an af­ter­thought also ex­posed the com­mit­ment gov­ern­ment agen­cies has shown to the pro­vi­sions of the Ker­ala Paddy land and Wet­lands con­ser­va­tion act, 2008.

When the state’s own agen­cies fail to show com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, it sends all sorts of wrong sig­nals to pri­vate cor­po­rate and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers eye­ing to con­vert paddy lands and wet­lands.

as per the norms of en­sur­ing leg­isla­tive over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity, this per­for­mance au­dit re­port ought to have been taken up for dis­cus­sion. How­ever, the as­sem­bly ses­sion had al­ready be­gan with signs that the gov­ern­ment wished to bring in an amend­ment bill that would make it eas­ier to re­claim paddy fields, wet­lands and “un­no­ti­fied land” for in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment pro­jects. on the last day of as­sem­bly ses­sion, the amend­ment bill was put to vote and the gov­ern­ment passed it amidst the op­po­si­tion furore.

The amend­ment bill has been crit­i­cised by sev­eral quar­ters as di­lu­tion to a con­ser­va­tion law that many con­sider the le­gacy of Vs achuthanan­dan. it has also come un­der se­vere crit­i­cism for al­low­ing paddy fields and wet­lands to be re­claimed “for pro­jects that ben­e­fit pub­lic”, while keep­ing it un­spec­i­fied as to what sort of pro­jects would qual­ify.

While that de­bate about the se­vere di­lu­tions that the amend­ment brings to a pro­gres­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal law will go on, we also need to pay heed to the way the con­sti­tu­tional au­dit agency’s mes­sage has been short-cir­cuited. By ig­nor­ing to lis­ten to the mes­sage that the per­for­mance au­dit of Kin­fra brings to us, the Ker­ala gov­ern­ment has acted hastily. This poses a se­vere threat to the norms that guar­an­tee leg­isla­tive over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity as en­vis­aged in the con­sti­tu­tion.

Will the op­po­si­tion par­ties de­mand an early con­ven­ing of the com­mit­tee on Pub­lic un­der­tak­ing (copu) and will the mes­sage from con­sti­tu­tional au­di­tors be re­spected and lis­tened to, rather than shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger? Upad­hyaya is fac­ulty at Azim Premji Univer­sity, Ban­ga­lore.

When the state’s own agen­cies fail to show com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, it sends all sorts of wrong sig­nals to pri­vate cor­po­rate and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers eye­ing to con­vert paddy lands and wet­lands.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.