NGT directs MoEF&CC to file report on illegal felling of trees In Corbett Tiger Reserve
The hearing on the case has been scheduled for 19 July
The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to file an action taken report on the felling of 6000 trees illegally in Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.
The bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (chairperson), Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Dr. A Senthil Vel (expert members) observed that the Committee’s report held not only cutting of trees illegal, but the process of restoration required the approval of the Government of India.
However, the Principal Secretary, Uttarakhand submitted that construction did not require the approval of the Central government.
The court noted, “Prima facie, it appears difficult to accept the stand of the Principal Secretary.”
NGT was hearing a suo moto matter based on a media report stating that 6000 trees had been illegally cut in the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve Division of Uttarakhand's Corbett Tiger Reserve.
In October 2022, the matter was considered in the report of the Director-General of the Forest Survey of India (FSI). It was titled 'Illegal Felling of Trees for the Establishment of Pakhrau Tiger Safari, Uttarakhand'. Other documents were also produced during the hearing by the DG FSI and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Heads of Forest Forces, Uttarakhand. It showed that the trees were cut illegally.
The tribunal then constituted a three-member committee comprising the DG, the forest department, ADG, Wildlife Department and ADG, Project Tiger to ascertain the facts and remedial action to be taken. It further directed MoEF&CC to file an action taken report.
However, instead of that, MoEF&CC submitted a copy of the Committee's report. It indicated that more than the stipulated number of 163 trees, more were felled for Tiger Safari. It was also found that construction had commenced without obtaining Stage II approval under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
Along with the names of the erring officials, the report read, “It is evident that the officers were going overboard in getting the work done in whatever way possible in total violation of rules and regulations.”
The Principal Secretary of the forest department stated that the Committee should have focused only on the illegal cutting of trees and not on any other issues. The responsibility for the illegal felling of trees was with the senior officers of the forest department.
He added there was no violation of the Conservation Act in the construction of the Tiger Enclosures and Interpretation Centre. He further stated that such activities did not require the approval of the Central government.
However, NGT stated, “MoEF&CC has to finalize its own perception in the matter and to file a report, which has not been done.”
The tribunal thus directed the Secretary, MoEF&CC to file an action taken report on the matter before the next date. Furthermore, it directed the Principal Secretary to appear in person or via video conferencing during the next hearing.