The restraint imposed by the Bombay high court earlier this year on tree cutting in the areas covered by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel will continue till the central government takes a final decision on the panel’s report.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice DD Sinha and justice KK Tated clarified this on Monday, while deciding a plea filed by the State seeking clarification on the extent of applicability of the restraining order.
The order was passed on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by city NGO Awaaz Foundation, seeking orders to declare the Sindhudurg-Doddamarg wildlife corridor as an eco-sensitive zone, because of apprehensions of rapid degradation of significant bio-diversity reserves within the corridor.
According to the NGO, the corridor has 303 species of plants, shrubs and trees, several with crucial medicinal values, 18 species of wildlife, including the Bengal tiger, leopards, black bear and wild buffalos and 13 species of birds. The 35-square kilometer stretch also facilitates movement of wild animals such as the Asiatic elephant.
The NGO has sought inclusion of the corridor in ecologically sensitive areas on the basis of various studies conducted by volunteer groups, concluding that the area was ecologically sensitive and therefore required to be protected, and if developmental activities such as mining were allowed, the wildlife corridor would be destroyed.
The NGO has alleged that during the last two years, more than 18 lakh trees have been destroyed or felled in the Doddamarg Forest Circle alone for facilitating mining activities. The NGO has, therefore, sought restraint on the bauxite and iron ore mining in the area.
During the hearing in April 2012, the state government had assured the court that no new mining leases would be granted in the ecologically sensitive area until the final decision was taken by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel.
The next hearing is on Wednesday, when the central government is expected to inform the court when they will take the final decision on the report.