Top officials of the Orissa Forest Department have been rewarded with luxury cars and vehicles for looking the other way and allowing companies or individuals to carry out mining or other illegal activity on forestland.
Now, thanks to an RTI filed by an activist, it might become clear where those vehicles really came from.
The fleet of cars at Aranya Bhawan headquarters does not belong to the Orissa Forest Department.
They come as gifts from various companies, a thank you for allowing them to mine or carry out industrial activity on forestland.
The Orissa Forest Department has got 40 such vehicles including luxury cars being used by top officials now.
Act of extortion
This can be interpreted as an act of extortion under the garb of legality and activists say it's plain and simple - bribing.
While forest guards and field officials don't have patrol vehicles, top officials have quite openly asked various companies for air-conditioned luxury cars.
This led green activist Biswajit Mohanty to file a petition under the RTI Act.
''This is a very incestuous relationship because the department is supposed to be a regulatory agency. This is totally condemnable, this is unethical and I would say this is illegal to a large extent. How can you expect an officer to take action against a mine, which has given him a vehicle?,'' said Biswajit Mohanty, Environmentalist.
Fortunately, the new state Forest Secretary is open to investigating the matter.
''Yes, I think someone did tell me about it and I shall surely look into it. In fact, when someone told me this I said, no, I will not use that car and I said I would use a government vehicle. So let's see how it's happening and why it is happening,'' said Hrishikesh Panda, Secretary, Forest & Environment.
Such practices do raise questions about top officials who decide on whether or not forestland is to be allotted for mining and other industrial purposes.
So the least the department can do now is return the cars and make sure it doesn't happen again.