The state forest department is again likely to head on a collision course with the judiciary!
Former state forest minister Surupsingh Naik and forest secretary Ashok Khot, were sentenced to jail for contempt of court for allowing illegal saw mills despite the court's directives. Now the state government has given a "plump posting" to a senior IFS officer whose credential was doubted by the higher court that directed the state government not to give any responsible posting! The issue may put the Vilasrao government in the dock in the coming days for violating the court directives.
Chief conservator of forests (CCF) Ramanuj Choudhary, who was shunted from the South-Chanda forest circle a few years ago, after a public interest litigation was filed before the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court against large-scale illicit tree-felling in Chandrapur-Gadchiroli district, got a field posting recently.
The petitioner, the local BJP legislator Shobhatai Phanadis, claimed that precious teak trees worth crores of rupees were chopped off in Sironcha, Allapalli, Central Chanda and Bhamragarh divisions in Chandrapur-Gadchiroli district in 2000 when Choudhary held the post of conservator of forests (CF), South Chanda circle. It was estimated that the teakwood worth of over Rs 200-crore felled in the forest during his regime. And there was a direct nexus between the forest mafia and forest officials in the entire episode.
The court took a strong exception over the illicit tree-felling and set up a high-level court panel to probe the matter. A team, comprising senior revenue, forest officials and peoples' representatives had visited the affected forest region and found that precious teak and other wood were indiscriminately chopped off in connivance with the forest mafia and sold out in the market.
While hearing the petition, the then division bench, comprising Justice JN Patel and Justice PS Brahme directed the government that Choudhary should not be given any responsible posting till the final verdict, which is awaited.
Meanwhile, the then divisional forest officer of Sironcha, BS Thengdi and a couple of other forest personnel involved in the scam were suspended and Choudhary was dumped in the wildlife wing as the field director of Melghat Tiger project. He was later posted as the CCF (Working Plan) at the forest headquarters in Nagpur which was considered an insignificant posting. But somehow, he managed a "plum posting" and got the charge of CCF Yavatmal forest circle this month. He has taken the charge accordingly, on Friday.
Phadnavis retorted, "I will file a contempt petition soon before the High Court against Choudhary's new posting. I had a talk with the Forest Minister Babanrao Pachpute in this regard and warned him that it would lead him to trouble." This case is similar to the one in which Naik and Khot permitted six saw mills to operate despite the fact that the higher court directed the state government to not renew the licenses of saw mills near the protected forests, she further pointed out.
On the other hand, scared with the development, the Forest Minister Pachpute pleaded that he has given an order to review the entire thing. "I had no knowledge about it. I have sought the details from the department and would send it to the legal department for its opinion," he told HT and informed that he has also directed the forest headquarters to give a stay on the order.
However, Choudhary claimed that the court had given him a clean chit in a second order.