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NGT asks Punjab government to probe felling of over 24,000 trees

The NGT has asked the state irrigation department to carry out compensatory afforestation over an equivalent area of non-forest land and also pay for its maintenance for five years.

punjab Updated: Aug 17, 2018 10:25 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
afforestation,Punjab,punjab govt
(HT File )

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday directed the Punjab government to order an inquiry by an officer of not less than the rank of additional chief secretary into felling of 24,777 trees along the Bist Doab Canal (BDC) and its distributaries in 2016.

The trees were felled for strengthening of canal and road construction. HT had then broke the news of illegal felling of these trees.

The NGT has asked the state irrigation department to carry out compensatory afforestation over an equivalent area of non-forest land and also pay for its maintenance for five years.

The tribunal also asked the department to fix the responsibility of the two officials – the then principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) and the then divisional forest officer (DFO), Nawanshahr – for ignoring the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. At that time, Kuldeep Kumar was the PCCF and Jagdev Singh was DFO. The latter has already retired.

The NGT said the then PCCF had said that “the trees were planted in an unauthorised manner on irrigation department land over the years to which no one objected. It is not forest area. Only 24,000 trees on non-forest area are being felled. An equal number of trees on forest land along the canal are not being touched”.

It adds that PCCF had directed conservator of forest, Shivalik circle, Hoshiarpur, and the DFO Nawanshahr on January 22, 2016, to initiate action for removal of trees as per marking of trees prepared by the DFO. In Nawanshahr district, trees were felled over 58.56 hectares and in Jalandhar over 48.69 hectares.

The PCCF had chosen to overlook the objection of conservator of forests, Shivalik circle, Hoshiarpur, who clearly stated that the felling of trees in the area will attract penal provisions of the 1980 Act and a prior approval of the environment and forests ministry was required to be sought, says the NGT order.

The order said, “All lands on either side of BDC, including its distributaries, and minor escapes and bunds clearly fall within the protected forests, irrespective of the fact that these are lands under the ownership of irrigation department. Therefore, the trees have been felled in violation of provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.”

It further said, “The entire case may be investigated by an officer not below the rank of additional chief secretary to fix the responsibility of officers who are responsible for violation of Forest (Conservation) Act-1980 and take strict action in accordance with the law.”

‘Took action after clarification from ministry’

Talking to HT, then PCCF Kuldeep Kumar, who now holds the charge as PCCF (wildlife), said, “I have not received the orders yet. We took action at that time after receiving clarification from the (environment and forests) ministry and the entire record is with the department.”

Facts:

24,777 Number of trees felled over the Bist Doab Canal

107.25 hectares Area over which trees were felled in Jalandhar and Nawanshahr districts

36.6 km Stretch over which trees were felled along the canal

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 10:24 IST