CEC recommends hefty penalty on society for encroaching Rajaji land | dehradun | Hindustan Times
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CEC recommends hefty penalty on society for encroaching Rajaji land

A charitable society in Uttarakhand is “illegally occupying” a plot of land in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve for 32 years and has even set up a 100-bed hospital on it

dehradun Updated: Apr 25, 2018 22:35 IST
Nihi Sharma
Shri Raghvendra Sewa Ashram Samiti could end up losing the plot.
Shri Raghvendra Sewa Ashram Samiti could end up losing the plot.(HT Photo for Representational Purpose)

A charitable society in Uttarakhand is “illegally occupying” a plot of land in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve for 32 years and has even set up a 100-bed hospital on it. It wants the government to legalise it and grant it more land, worth an approximate Rs 500 crore, near the hospital so an extended garden of medicinal plants could be set up there.

Shri Raghvendra Sewa Ashram Samiti, however, could end up losing the plot. A Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has urged Supreme Court to impose a hefty penalty on the Samiti for “encroaching upon land in a protected area”.

The said land, 1.618 hectare (or four acres), is situated in Khadkhadi beat of Motichur range in Rajaji Tiger Reserve. It falls in the buffer zone.

The Samiti, which then went by the name Shree Doodhdhari Ashram Trust, had in 1976 secured the land on lease for 10 years from the Uttar Pradesh government. After the lease expired in 1986, the government issued it several notices to vacate the property, but the Trust officials continued to ignore them.

In 1995, the trust moved a proposal to set up a 100-bed charitable hospital on the plot. Despite the ministry of environment, forest (MoEF) rejecting the proposal mentioning that any commercial activity inside the reserve was against Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the trust went ahead and constructed the hospital in 2004.

The trust now demanded that it be sanctioned more forest land, totalling 19.503 hectare (including 1.618 hectare that it had not vacated) for an extended garden of medicinal plants. The trust offered to exchange this yet to be sanctioned 19.503 hectare forest land — stretching from near Motichur Railway Station till Motichur Rau — against a private land at Banjarawala in Haridwar.

In 2006, a five-member standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), rejected the proposal with 4:1 majority. Four years later, divisional forest officer, Haridwar, issued eviction notice, which the trust again refused to comply with.

Following a field visit, AJT Johnsingh, member, NBWL, submitted report in 2012 clearly mentioning that “Haridwar was having several hospitals and there was no need for construction of another hospital on the land of Rajaji National Park, which was already facing huge anthropogenic pressure.” The committee thereafter, rejected the proposal.

Incidentally, a year after the national park was declared a tiger reserve, the standing committee approved the project in 2016 despite having rejected it in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 and 2012.

It was after the standing committee approved the proposal that the CEC conducted a site inspection in November 2016 and submitted its report to the Supreme Court terming the demand for 19.403-hectare land as a “private party beneficial project,”. The CEC also recommended the apex court to impose hefty penalty on the trust. It also sought a direction to the Uttarakhand government to evict the encroachers.

The matter is still pending in the apex court.

The CEC had carried out the inspection in presence of the then additional chief secretary S Ramaswamy; chief operating officer (COO), compensatory afforestation fund management and planning authority (CAMPA), Sameer Sinha; trust representative Rakesh Oberai; RTR director Sanatan Sonkar; Wildlife Institute of India (WII) expert Bivash Pandav, and WTI representative Dinesh Pandey.

“I told the CEC members that approving the proposal would mean a grave threat to the forest cover and wildlife in the protected area. We hope that Supreme Court would reject this proposal and the encroachers are shifted out,” Sonkar said.

The detailed CEC report says that “the forest land is illegally occupied by the society and encroachments in the form of permanent structures have taken place on the said land and therefore the present proposal would tantamount to rewarding the violator.”

It further adds that if the project was approved it would be a “dangerous precedent that would open the flood gates for such proposals right across the country in protected areas.”

The report also talks of the real estate avenues of the land, which shares boundary with Haridwar-Dehradun road.

“The 19.503-hectare forest land, because of its location, is having potential of high market value of over Rs 500 crores — a dream site for any real estate commercial venture,” says the report exposing how the proposal was backed by topmost former and serving Indian Forest Service (IFS) officials along with politicians.

The exchange would also mean chopping 10,122 trees of sal (Shorea robusta) and shisham (Dalbergia sissoo) on the land being demanded for the project.

“Some top-notch IFS officials and land mafia are involved in the proposed exchange of land. They want to use the land for commercial purpose. We have faith in Supreme Court that it would preserve the sanctity of the tiger reserve,” Pandey said.

TIMELINE

1976 Shree Doodhdhari Ashram Trust, now known as Shree Raghvendra Sewashram Samiti, on March 1 got 1.618 hectare (4 acre) of forest land in Motichur range on lease from UP government to erect a cow shelter.

1986: The lease expires on March 31. The trust is served notice to vacate the land, but they refuse to.

1995: The trust moves a proposal for exchange of 19.503 hectare forest land adjoining cow shelter against a private land at Banjarawala in Haridwar for constructing a 100-bed charitable hospital.

2001: The then chief wildlife warden (CWW) forwards the proposal to the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF), which rejects it citing provisions under Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

2000: The trust moves Supreme Court, following which the chief wildlife warden submits that they were in favour of the project. The apex court, however, empowered standing committee of NBWL to decide over the matter after a detailed investigation.

2004: The trust constructs the hospital and seeks to create an extended garden of medicinal plants for the hospital on 19.503-hectare forestland.

2006: Standing Committee reviews the case for the first time. Four members rejected the proposal. One favours it.

2010: DFO Haridwar issues notice to trust asking it to vacate the 1.618 hecatre land. Same year, the trust applies for the lease, which is rejected.

2011: Standing committee appoints AJT Johnsingh, member NBWL, to conduct field visit and submit a report.

2012: The standing committee, after going through the report, rejects the proposal.

2012: The trust writes to Union forest minister urging to constitute a three-member committee instead of one.

2013: The trust applies for extension of lease for its 1.618 hectare area of cow shelter.

2015: Deputy park director, Rajaji, rejects the lease and issues fresh eviction order.

2016: Two member team of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) conduct field visit.

2016: On February 26, the standing committee approves the proposal.

2016: CEC goes for site inspection.

2017: CEC submits report to Supreme Court saying that the proposal was mooted because of real estate gain on main Haridwar-Dehradun route