Forest dept begins demolition of Tungareshwar ashram
According to a senior forest officer, five excavator machines and around 1,000 personnel under the jurisdiction of the Palghar superintendent of police, forest department and revenue department were dispatched at the spot.Updated: Aug 30, 2019 06:46 IST
The Maharashtra forest department said they began a demolition of a four-storey structure (dharamshala), which is part of the illegal Balayogi Shri Sadanand Maharaj Ashram, inside Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS) on Thursday.
According to a senior forest officer, five excavator machines and around 1,000 personnel under the jurisdiction of the Palghar superintendent of police, forest department and revenue department were dispatched at the spot.
Last month, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered the state government to demolish the 42-year-old ashram by August 31. However, trustees of the ashram said they had requested the forest department to hold off the demolition, as their plea for the Apex court to reconsider its decision was pending. “So far, we have not received any stay order from the SC. To ensure the orders are complied with demolition is underway,” the forest officer said.
The trustees confirmed that demolition had begun. “From Thursday morning, our devotees [150 men and women] were asked to vacate the dharamshala. Devotees singing bhajans as a protest were forcibly stopped by the police and told to disburse,” said Gurunath Bhoir, secretary of the trust that runs the ashram. “We had requested the state to stop demolition till Friday afternoon as we expect the SC will issue another order regarding our review petition. But the demolition is still being carried out.”
Bhoir added that the ashram trustees were told that it would be a step-by-step demolition till the entire complex was demolished. “After the dharamshala, a cowshed home to 25 milch cows will be demolished, followed by the prasadalaya [where devotees are fed daily], the stage where ashram functions are held, our baba’s residence, and finally the temple,” he said.
On Wednesday, the trust itself completed the demolition of an under-construction, one-storey dormitory at the complex.
In January, Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust 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 an extension of the deadline to August 31.
On Wednesday, Goenka filed a complaint with the chief secretary, alleging that revenue and police officers were actively stopping the forest department from implementing the SC orders.
“Despite section 144 being imposed, there were hundreds of persons present at the site. Police also refused to sanitise the area. However, we welcome the action finally taken by the departments on Thursday. The entire process would have been much smoother if proceedings would have been initiated earlier,” said Goenka.