Bombay HC raps MoEF for not declaring Maharashtra wildlife corridor an eco-sensitive zone
the bench said it will initiate proceedings against the secretary of the union ministry for contempt of court if the ministry failed to fulfil the assurance.mumbai Updated: Mar 16, 2018 00:25 IST
The Bombay high court on Thursday rapped the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for failing to declare the Sawantwadi-Doddamarg wildlife corridor as an ecologically sensitive area, as promised to the high court earlier.
The division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Riyaz Chagla said they will initiate proceedings against the secretary of the union ministry for contempt of court if the ministry failed to fulfil the assurance.
It was referring to an earlier high court order recording MoEF’s assurance that it would include the Sawantwadi–Doddamarg wildlife corridor in the list of ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats. The only thing left to do at the time was to finalise the procedural modalities for declaration of the corridors as an eco-sensitive area.
The court was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by city NGOs Awaaz Foundation and Vanashakti seeking orders to declare the wildlife corridor as an eco-sensitive zone.
“As we see it, the only way to secure implementation of the order is to initiate proceedings for contempt of court against the secretary of this department,” said the bench.
Advocate Rui Rodrigues, who represented the MoEF, said that last month they received a fresh recommendation from the Maharashtra government. The recommendation excluded 358 villages, including the corridor, from the originally recommended 2,123 villages from the state to be included in said list.
What annoyed the judges more was the fact that the corridor has been purportedly excluded on the basis of demands made by a local MLA, now a minister in Devendra Fadnavis government.
According to Awaaz Foundation, the corridor has 303 species of plants, shrubs and trees, several with crucial medicinal values; 18 species of wildlife, including Bengal tigers, leopards, black bears and wild buffalos; and 13 species of birds. Additionally, the 35-square kilometre stretch facilitates the movement of wild animals such as the Asiatic elephant, an endangered tiger, between Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary, and Chandoli National Park.
The NGO has sought the inclusion of the corridor in the list of ecologically sensitive areas on the basis of various studies by volunteer groups that concluded the area needed to be protected. If developmental activities such as mining were allowed, the wildlife corridor would be destroyed, stated the studies.
The NGO has alleged that during the last two years, more than 18 lakh trees in Doddamarg Forest Circle have been destroyed or felled to facilitate mining activities and therefore, sought restraint on the bauxite and iron ore mining in the area.
Vanashakti recently filed an application in the pending PILs claiming that a 3,000-hectare forest cover in the corridor has been cleared for a rubber plantation. Assistant government pleader, Manish Pable, said that no fresh permissions for rubber plantation or mining have been given after 2012.