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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

At Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary: Ashram trustees demolish part of structure

Last month, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered the state government to demolish the Balayogi Shri Sadanand Maharaj Ashram by August 31. Senior officers from the forest department said that while the road leading up to the ashram had been cordoned off, demolition had not been initiated by them.

mumbai Updated: Aug 27, 2019 04:09 IST
Ram Parmar and Badri Chatterjee
Ram Parmar and Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Trustees of the Balayogi Shri Sadanand Maharaj Ashram demolished an under-construction dormitory, adjacent to the main structure, at Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary on Monday.
Trustees of the Balayogi Shri Sadanand Maharaj Ashram demolished an under-construction dormitory, adjacent to the main structure, at Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary on Monday.(HT Photo)
         

The trustees of a 42-year-old illegal ashram, located inside Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, on Monday began voluntary demolition of an under-construction, one-storey dormitory at the complex amid protests from more than 300 devotees.

Last month, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered the state government to demolish the Balayogi Shri Sadanand Maharaj Ashram by August 31. Senior officers from the forest department said that while the road leading up to the ashram had been cordoned off, demolition had not been initiated by them so far. “With the help of police and other departments, we have ensured that law and order prevails but none of our officers have entered the complex yet,” said a senior forest officer.

Devotees said that they had begun protests on Monday, but were then convinced by trustees to comply with the SC order. “We began our protests along the road leading up to the ashram on Monday morning, but when we realised that our trustee had directed that our dormitory be demolished, we rushed to the complex. Our trustees feel it is our responsibility to follow the orders of the court and the state should not initiate this demolition. Our protest [against the state] will continue,” said Swapnil Sapata who works at the ashram.

The petitioner said Monday’s demolition was a superficial stand by the ashram. “The ashram has only demolished a structure that is under construction, and the main structure still stands. If the forest department had barricaded the roads, it is unclear how over 300 devotees managed to reach the ashram. This confusion is happening due to the delay by the state to initiate the demolition,” said Debi Goenka of Conservation Action Trust (CAT).

In January, Goenka had filed a plea claiming the ashram had been “in violation of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for over 30 years, by continuing to illegally encroach on forest land.” On May 7, the SC directed the state to demolish the ashram before July 22. However, after the state failed to meet this deadline, the SC allowed extension of the deadline to August 31.

The Maharashtra government then requested the Apex court to further delay the deadline by two months to November 7, after Ganeshotsav and the Assembly elections. Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mantralaya), said that the SC did not allow an extension and the August 31 deadline will be followed.