NGT seeks Assam govt’s reply after schools, tea gardens found inside forest land - Hindustan Times
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NGT seeks Assam govt’s reply after schools, tea gardens found inside forest land

May 09, 2024 12:46 PM IST

The NGT has asked the chief secretary of Assam to file an affidavit

Several schools, a 5 km-long road, tea garden, wells and polling stations were found to be built inside a wildlife sanctuary and nearby forest reserve in Assam, an affidavit filed by the state government in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has revealed.

The matter will come up for hearing again on July 3. (HT file photo)
The matter will come up for hearing again on July 3. (HT file photo)

In an order passed last week, the NGT has asked the chief secretary of Assam to file an affidavit giving details of officers who permitted such extensive construction in gross violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

“The affidavit must also explain the inaction of the principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) under whose very nose such illegal activities were allowed to go on since 2017,” the NGT order passed on May 2 by judicial member, Justice B Amit Sthalekar and expert member Arun Kumar Verma, read.

The present case relates to an application filed by Dilip Nath with NGT last year alleging violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act at Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary (SRWS) in Sonitpur district of Assam where large-scale construction activities have been done by government and illegal encroachments by others.

In an affidavit filed last month in connection with the case, the Assam government had stated that several schools were functioning and indulging in non-forest activities inside SRWS and Charduar reserve forest (CRF). It mentioned that a first information report (FIR) against the management committees of these schools has been registered by the local forest authorities.

Also Read:NGT seeks explanation from Assam on diversion of forest land for police battalion

The affidavit added that the state irrigation department was constructing a sluice gate on the Siloni River inside CRF in violation of rules. An individual even started a tea garden inside the same reserve forest, the affidavit added.

It mentioned that a contractor had constructed a 5-km-long road inside SRWS in violations of Wildlife (Protection) Act and Forest (Conservation) Act and an FIR has been registered against him.

The affidavit stated that several polling stations under Dhekhijuli, Sootea and Rangapara assembly seats were also set up inside the SRWS and the state public health engineering (PHE) department had installed ring wells in the same wildlife sanctuary.

In its order, the NGT noted that while the affidavit carried details of illegal activities inside the wildlife sanctuary and forest reserves, there was no mention of actions taken to remove encroachments and constructions in order to restore the forest.

“Whether it has been dismantled and forest restored has not been stated for reasons best known to the joint secretary, who has filed the affidavit,” the order read.

The NGT also directed the union environment, forests and climate change ministry to file a counter affidavit within four weeks mentioning action taken against officers who allowed the illegal constructions and steps taken to remove them.

The matter will come up for hearing again on July 3.

Located on the foothills of the Himalayas near Assam’s border with Arunachal Pradesh, SRWS covers an area of 220 sq km and is home to a variety of mammals, birds and reptiles including tigers, elephants, hornbills, pelicans and pythons. The CRF is located close to it.

While the present case is about violations inside SRWS and CRF, there have been other instances of illegal constructions inside protected forests in Assam which have hit headlines in recent months.

Last month, the union environment, forest and climate change ministry had written to Assam government seeking a report on alleged illegal diversion of 28 hectares of land inside the Geleky reserve forest near Assam-Nagaland border to construct a police battalion camp.

HT had reported last month on how MK Yadava, the former PCCF who is now the special chief secretary (forest) in Assam, had approved construction of a commando battalion unit last year inside a protected forest at Hailakandi near the Assam-Mizoram border by diverting 44 hectares of forest land.

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