New Delhi, Dehradun: The National Green Tribunal Tuesday issued notices to the Union and the Uttarakhand governments seeking their response on a plea raising concern over the unregulated operation of helicopters creating a threat to the flora and fauna in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), state government, National Board for Wildlife (NBL) and others.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by environment activist Kavita Ashok seeking directions to frame an aviation policy for the eco-sensitive zone. The petitioner also said that she has learnt through an RTI response that Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has recommended to the government to shift the Sersi helipad near Sonprayag. It is the nearest helipad for reaching the Kedarnath shrine.
The Hindustan Times was first to report on April 20 the findings WII report that highlighted how the noise from low-flying choppers was disturbing the wildlife in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. It was also reported that WII has suggested shifting of helipad as an interim measure.
The sanctuary is known for its dense forests, which has trees like oak, chir, pine, birch, alpine, rhododendron meadows, and numerous flowering plants, besides endangered and rare species like Musk Deer and Himalayan Tahr.
A large number of pilgrims, intending to avoid the 16-km trek to Kedarnath shrine in Rudraprayag district, opt for the chopper services. More people started opting for the chopper service after the flash floods of 2013.
In her plea, the petitioner had sought execution of the NGT’s December 10, 2015 order. The NGT, in its order, had asked the state government to issue directions in consonance with the aviation policy with specific reference to the sanctuary in relation to the height and level of noise that the helicopters should be permitted to generate.
The petitioner, who has also sought imposition of penalty for non-compliance of the order, contended that helicopter operations in the area for religious tourism have “seriously disturbed the eco-system and fauna of Kedarnath Sanctuary”.
In its plea, filed through advocate Gaurav Bansal, the petitioner alleged that the authorities have till date neither acted on the interim measures as suggested by the WII, nor have declared the eco sensitive zone for the sanctuary.
“As the helicopter service is likely to start ... (soon), the respondents can use the gap period for preparation of interim measures as suggested by the WII...The applicant has learnt from the article published in a leading English daily that WII has also suggested to shift the Sersi helipad,” the plea said.
Contacted, R Rajesh Kumar, additional secretary, civil aviation, said, “We will follow the orders of the Tribunal.”
Uttarakhand High Court had, in 2012, sealed noise level limits around protected areas — 50 decibels during the day and 40 decibels during the night. A report by DFO Kedarnath submitted to the government in 2013 mentioned that the noise levels reported in the valley was 120 decibels. Later the NGT had asked the WII to pitch in for researched results.
Digvijay Singh Khati, chief wildlife warden, said, “The final report of WII has recommended shifting of Sersi helipad and also limiting sorties per day.”