Odisha Channel Bureau Bhubaneswar, Mar 2: Expressing concern over construction of a fly ash pond by Vedanta’s Sesa Sterlite Industries at Bhurkamunda of Jharsuguda district by illegally encroaching upon 246.74 acres of forest land in complete violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, water rights activist Ranjan Panda has demanded that the company must be immediately punished for this criminal offence.“We are shocked to learn from local newspaper reports that the Vedanta group of company’s Sesa Sterlite Industries, at Bhurkamunda of Jharsuguda district, has built its fly ash pond by illegally encroaching upon 246.74 acres of forest land in complete violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980,” said Panda in a statement today. “This is unlawful and the company must be immediately punished for this criminal offence,” demanded Panda, who is Convenor of Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO), a leading network on water and environmental issues in Odisha.While the ash pond has been built since 2009-2010, and the local people have always complained about its illegality, ironically the Forest Department is said to have intervened in this matter only in 2013. “All these years, therefore, the illegal fly ash pond kept operating in connivance with the Forest Department,” alleged Panda. “What surprises us more is that the Forest Department is said to have written only one letter requesting the company in this regard while they should have shut the fly ash pond by now,” complained Panda.“The role of the local administration and most importantly that of the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) is also dubious in this case. How can such an unlawful operation go without their support?” asked Panda.“All the concerned officials, who have deliberately let Vedanta continue with this illegal act, should also be questioned and punished in this case,” he added.Since the year 2010, WIO has been raising the blatant and open violations of environmental and other laws by Vedanta group of companies in that area.“We have also been urging upon the state government to not allow any thermal power plant without first ensuring the proper management of fly ash. However, this once again exposes how the state government has been neglecting the health and well-being of the local people, forests, water bodies and rivers by allowing the companies like Vedanta to loot local resources, destroy the environment and flout laws of the land.” “We urge upon the Government of Odisha to effect an immediate closure of the illegal fly ash pond, free the forest land from the company’s clutches and punish all who are responsible for violating the laws of the land in this case,” said Panda.