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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

NGT fines Goa govt Rs 10,000 per day for failing to earmark private forests

The National Green Tribunal had directed the Goa government to complete the process of identifying private lands which meet the criteria of forests by June 30 this year and had warned that any delay would entail costs.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2019 21:26 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Panaji
In December last year, the NGT had directed the state government to complete the work by March 31 this year. However on account of the Lok Sabha elections, the NGT had agreed to extend the time until June. (Image used  for representational purpose).
In December last year, the NGT had directed the state government to complete the work by March 31 this year. However on account of the Lok Sabha elections, the NGT had agreed to extend the time until June. (Image used for representational purpose).(Getty Images.)
         

The Goa government’s decision to “arbitrarily” reject a report earmarking lands as private forests will cost the state Rs 10,000 per day with effect from July 1, until it submits the report, after the National Green Tribunal, peeved over the delay, has decided to penalise the state.

The National Green Tribunal had directed the Goa government to complete the process of identifying private lands which meet the criteria of forests by June 30 this year and had warned that any delay would entail costs.

However, when the matter came up for hearing the Government of Goa sought a further three months to complete the process. The NGT bench of Justice S P Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Nagin Nanda agreed only after penalising the Goa government Rs 10,000 per day for the delay and further costs of Rs 1.5-crore if the exercise is not completed within the next three months.

The Rs 10,000 per day fine is effective from July 1. Private lands that have a tree canopy/crown density of 0.4 and above, are spread of forest in 5ha or more land contiguous and/or proximate to large forest-area and existence of 75% forest tree species are to be earmarked as private forests.

“The records reveal that the state of Goa has been repeatedly seeking time to complete the exercise. In view of the above and the fact that further time has been sought for, the direction for payment of penalty in terms of order dated April 03, 2019 shall be operative,” the NGT had decreed.

In December last year, the NGT had directed the state government to complete the work by March 31 this year. However on account of the Lok Sabha elections, the NGT had agreed to extend the time until June.

In July this year, then forest minister Vijai Sardesai declared that he had ‘rejected’ the report prepared by the government appointed committee on grounds that “land owners were not consulted”.

“The final report of the Review Committee was submitted to the Goa government well in time. However, the then Forest Minister arbitrarily rejected the report. The costs of rejection of the report are there for all to see. Ministers do not only cost the people of the state when they rule, the public continues to pay for their expensive mistakes even after they are no longer ministers,” Claude Alvares, director of the Goa Foundation said.

Environmental NGO Goa Foundation had approached the National Green Tribunal, against the Goa Government’s delay in notifying private forests in terms of the Supreme Court’s order of 1996.

The Supreme Court in its 1996 order directed all state governments to set up Expert Committees to identify natural forests (including degraded forest lands) in individual states.

In Goa, the government set up what is known as the Sawant Committee (named after its Chairperson, Mr S M Sawant) to identify private forests in the state. The Sawant Committee identified 40 sq km of private forest. Since its work was not completed before it decided to close shop, the Goa government appointed a successor committee headed by H.Y.Karapurkar which identified another 27 sq km of private forests. Following the work of the two committees, a total of 67 sq km of private forests was identified.

Since then the government constituted another two committees -- the North Goa committee is headed by V T Thomas and the South Goa committee headed by F X Araujo, both retired forest department officials -- to complete the identification of private forests and then yet another review committee to review the work done by the previous four committees.

The report of the review committee was also rejected.

First Published: Aug 15, 2019 21:26 IST

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