Police training centre built on forest land, rules NGT
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ruled that a police training and research centre of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) in Bhondsi, has been built on forest land without obtaining clearances required under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980. The state’s chief secretary has been asked to furnish an action-taken report within a month, though it is unclear from the NGT’s order (a copy of which is with HT) what action is required of the state.
Earlier this year, in response to a petition filed by the former sarpanch of Manesar panchayat, Ram Avtar Yadav, the NGT had sought a “factual and action-taken report” from the Haryana forest department to determine any irregularities in the matter. Furnished in May, the report confirms that the construction was “in violation of law, for which necessary action under provisions of the FCA needs to be taken,” the Tribunal observed in its latest order, dated August 9.
Yadav’s petition was intended to highlight unauthorised constructions on land notified under sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, which is to be considered and protected as forest land, according to the Supreme Court. The IRB presently occupies over 300 acres of PLPA notified land in Bhondsi — used to build housing, offices and a research centre — but has applied for change of land-use for only 59 acres of this area. Moreover, while the permission to divert forest land was requested first in 2015 (and then again in 2017), the structures themselves had been built in 2004.
A 480-metre long check dam in Kadarpur village has also been subsumed by the project.
“This raises a very important point which neither the police, the forest department, or the NGT have adequately addressed. What were local authorities, including the forest department and the department of town and country planning, doing for 11 years before the violations came to light,” said Yadav, who, before approaching the NGT, had written multiple letters to the Haryana government asking them to investigate possible violations of forest law in the matter.
Following the IRB’s request to use forest land, investigations carried by the forest department revealed that about 62,000 trees have been cut for the project, without any prior permission or provision of equivalent non-forest land, as mandated under the FCA. In its May report, the forest department noted, “The forest department has not granted any permission to the IRB for felling trees. Building and roads have been constructed in the centre without prior approval of the government of India under provisions of the FCA.”
While activists expressed relief that the NGT has upheld the forest department’s report, they also expressed concern over the NGT’s order directing the matter to the chief secretary.
“If a violation such as Kant Enclave can be ordered to be demolished, then why not this? The violation is the same. By roping in the chief secretary, there is a chance that the violation will become regularised. This sets a very poor precedent for the enforcement of environment law in Haryana. It is the job of the police to take action against such violations, not perpetrate violations themselves,” said Gurugram-based activist Vaishali Rana Chandra.
Officials in the forest department said, “We will wait and see what the NGT says next and take action accordingly.” The NGT is set to hear the matter next in October.