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Punjab spends Rs 86 lakh on state lawyers to defend felling of trees in NGT, SC

RTI plea reveals amount was spent from funds meant for planting trees.

punjab Updated: Nov 03, 2017 12:21 IST
Avtar Singh
Avtar Singh
Hindustan Times, Sangrur
Punjab spends,Punjab,Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority
The reply to the query filed under the RTI states that apart from fees and travel allowance of the officers, Rs 1 lakh has been paid to advocates per appearance per case.(HT Representative)

The department of forests and wildlife preservation in Punjab has spent around Rs 86 lakh on senior advocates to defend deforestation in the state before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Supreme Court (SC), an RTI query reveals.

Ironically, the money was used from the funds of the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), a body which arranges funds to plant trees as “compensatory afforestation” in industrial areas or other parts, where deforestation takes place due to development projects.

The reply to the query filed under the Right to Information (RTI) states that apart from fees and travel allowance of the officers, Rs 1 lakh has been paid to advocates per appearance per case from July 2016 to August 2017. The fee of four advocates has been paid from the account of CAMPA.

“The guidelines of CAMPA have been violated to justify the deforestation and irregularities of the forest department. Had these Rs 86 lakh been judiciously used in replenishing the green cover and ensuring its survival, we could hope for a better environment. I am disappointed to note that the forest department and its officers seem to have misused the funds to defend their wrong doings,” said Dr Amandeep Aggarwal, who had filed the RTI application.

Agarwal has also filed a petition before the NGT against “massive” deforestation along Zirakpur-Bathinda stretch of the national highway.

“The misuse of these funds was being hided. The department didn’t provide the information, so I had filed the appeal before the state information commission. I received this information on the orders of commission on Wednesday,” he added.

Meanwhile, officials of the forest department denied any delay in providing information through the RTI and said the department is using funds, according to its requirements.

“We use CAMPA funds to plant trees at different places, but sometimes additional funds can be used in other works,” said principal chief conservator of forests Jatinder Sharma, when contacted by HT.

First Published: Nov 03, 2017 10:02 IST