No criminal action against violators who chopped trees in Aravallis
Confirming that the land in question was protected under general section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (1900), Deepak Nanda, district forest officer, said, “We have already issued a damage report for about ₹90,000 and told the owner of the property to plant 10,000 trees in the area.”Updated: Jun 27, 2019 08:16 IST
More than five days after around 400 trees were felled over the weekend in Sohna’s Saap ki Nangli, which forms a part of the protected Aravallis, the district forest department is yet to initiate criminal action as per the Forest Conservation Act (1980). So far, the forest department has furnished a ‘damage report’ and fined violators a sum of ₹90,000.
Confirming that the land in question was protected under general section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (1900), Deepak Nanda, district forest officer, said, “We have already issued a damage report for about ₹90,000 and told the owner of the property to plant 10,000 trees in the area.”
However, according to available records, the land is also part of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change’s Aravalli Plantation. Funds supplied by the European Union were used to carry out afforestation in the Aravallis between 1990 and the early 2000s, and these areas are now “deemed forests”, where the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act is applicable.
“This automatically implies that the department needs to file either a police complaint or take the violator to court,” said Sunil Harsana, an environmental activist from Mangar village, in Faridabad, who brought the violation to light.
Another concern raised with regard to the plot was its ownership status. Originally recorded as shamlat deh (or common use) land as per revenue records, the four-acre plot in question (mushtil numbers 166, 167 and 197) was part of a larger 65-acre farmhouse that was seized from a popular Punjabi singer in 2013, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2011 judgement in the Jagpal Singh case, which stated that all common lands are to be restored to the panchayats.
Accordingly, the land was then vested with the Sohna municipality in 2013, at the orders of the then subdivisional magistrate, Vivek Kalia, activists alleged. This was confirmed by naib tehsildar Jevender Singh, who was part of the team that reoccupied the farmhouse on March 28, 2013.
“How then, is the forest department referring to the violator of the land as its “owner”? If there are private players trying to occupy the plot once again, it is a major setback for forest and land laws. If, somehow, the land has become privatised again, authorities should explain how and why they have allowed this to happen,” said environmentalist and legal activist Sarvadaman Oberoi.
Nanda did not respond to questions, asking whether the forest department would initiate prosecution against the violators. Deputy commissioner Amit Khatri said he would verify the ownership records of the site in question, but did not respond to messages seeking clarity, later. Harsana and Oberoi, both said that such violations are rampant across districts where the Aravallis are present, and criminal action is to be initiated by the respective forest departments. Asked about the ownership status of the land, YS Gupta, additional commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, said, “I will not be able to answer that. That is the domain of the deputy commissioner’s office.”
First Published: Jun 26, 2019 21:15 IST