NGT names ex-minister for illegal tree felling at Corbett Tiger Reserve | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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NGT names ex-minister for illegal tree felling at Corbett Tiger Reserve

By, Dehradun
Mar 14, 2023 12:48 AM IST

Uttarakhand’s former forest minister and eight other officials should be held responsible for the felling of over 6,000 trees and illegal constructions in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, a panel formed by the National Green Tribunal has recommended.

Uttarakhand’s former forest minister and eight other officials should be held responsible for the felling of over 6,000 trees and illegal constructions in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, a panel formed by the National Green Tribunal has recommended.

The NGT had on its own taken note of a media report on the illegal felling at Corbett Tiger Reserve in October last year and had constituted a committee to identify the violators and recommend steps to restore the environment.
The NGT had on its own taken note of a media report on the illegal felling at Corbett Tiger Reserve in October last year and had constituted a committee to identify the violators and recommend steps to restore the environment.

The green tribunal had on its own taken note of a media report on the illegal felling in the reserve in October last year and had constituted a committee to identify the violators and recommend steps to restore the environment.

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Around 6,000 trees were cut down for the proposed Pakhro tiger safari project in the tiger reserve in an area of 16.21 hectares, according to a report by the Forest Survey of India.

Bivash Ranjan, additional director general of forests, wildlife, at the Union environment ministry visited the Corbett reserve in January with other ministry officials. Another set of panel members visited the tiger reserve in February.

In its 128-page report submitted, the committee has named Harak Singh Rawat (then state forest minister), JS Suhag (then chief wildlife warden), Sushant Patnaik (chief conservator of forests, Garhwal), Rahul (then director, Corbett Tiger Reserve), Akhilesh Tiwari (then divisional forest officer), Kishan Chand (then divisional forest officer Kalagarh), Mathura Singh Mavdi (then forest range officer), Braj Vihari Sharma (forest range officer), LR Nag (then subdivisional officer) and other officers as those responsible for the felling of trees.

The report stated that in the tiger safari project area, construction work was undertaken before envirnmental clearances were given, in gross violation of the norms.

The panel pointed out that elephant-proof wall in the northern periphery of the safari was taken up without any clear budgetary provision and planning. In the case of the waterbody constructed near Pakhrau, the panel noted that 122 trees had been uprooted, leading to the destruction of wildlife habitat.

For officers responsible for violations in Pakhrau tiger safari, the report stated, “At government level: All the officers working in government including the then (forest) minister who issued financial sanctions before final stage II clearance was issued” are responsible.

Listing the violations, the report stated there has been feeling of trees more than the stipulated number of 163 in the approval of the tiger safari, work was started without approval under Forest Conservation Act of 1980, revised detailed project report as asked for by Central Zoo Authority was never submitted, resulting into the execution of works without proper approval.

“Going by the reports, documents and inspections, it is clear that the officers of CTR had scant respect for acts, rules, regulations and guidelines, and behaved in the most irresponsible manner,” the report said.

In its report, the committee noted that “it is evident that the officers were going overboard in getting the works done in whatever way possible in total violation of rules and regulations.”

The committee stated that “suitable disciplinary and legal action should be taken against erring officials/individuals so that this case becomes an example for future.”

The committee has recommended that the establishment of any new tourism infrastructure in the tiger reserve should be strictly as per the provisions of the approved tiger conservation plan and National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines of 2012. The committee has recommended that the remaining construction in the safari should be taken up under the supervision of a committee constituted by state government officers along with eminent experts as per the layout plan.

The matter related to illegal constructions and tree felling in the reserve was first raised by Gaurav Kumar Bansal, Supreme Court advocate and wildlife conservationist, in 2021 before the Delhi high court. Later, he approached the central empowered committee (CEC) constituted by the top court.

The CEC in its 106-page report submitted before apex court last month recommended the issuance of a “notice to the then Forest Minister Dr Harak Singh Rawat who is largely responsible for the mess created by Kishan Chand in Corbett Tiger Reserve, as brought out in this report and take appropriate action after hearing the then Forest Minister”.

Former forest minister Harak Singh Rawat said he acted on the facts brought before him by forest officials.

“I am not an expert on forests. Our portfolios keep changing. I acted on the files that were brought before me. It is the forest officials, who are experts in these issues, who implement the same at the ground level,” he said. “As forest minister, I cannot go everywhere to check what has been done. Also, I am being targeted now as I am no more a forest minister and have joined the Congress.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    He is principal correspondent based at Bhopal. He covers environment and wildlife, state administration, BJP and other saffron organisations. He has special interest in social issues based stories.

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