Ex Chief Minister in the dock

People have for long been usurped of their rights over forests by industrialists, the timber mafia and corrupt officials. One such instance of misuse of power is the controversial khair wood allotment case in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Shimla Special Judge M D Sharma has issued summons to former HP chief minister Virbhadra Singh and four others under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.

They have been charged with criminal breach of trust, forgery, cheating, criminal misconduct and misuse of official position to cause pecuniary gains to a firm called Sagar Katha Udyog. Besides Singh, retired bureaucrat, O P Yadav, the then deputy secretary (forests) and a partner of the firm have been issued notices.

The high-profile case pertains to the illegal allotment of khair wood to the firm by the state forest department quota in 1998. The firm had applied for 37.5 per cent khair wood quota in 1997. Yadav, then forest secretary, had noted that 25 to 30 per cent might be considered. The forest minister at that time, the late Santa Ram, recommended a 25 per cent quota. This was subsequently cleared by Singh, but the allotment was made without the approval of the cabinet. In fact, Singh is alleged to have written in the file: "I have considered the matter, there is no need to bring it before the cabinet.'

As per the norms, all matters referred to in the schedule of business rules have to be brought before the council of ministers. The forest secretary and others also gave unauthorised concession on purchase power to the firm for two years.