The National Green Tribunal has halted further activity across 436 acres of forest land in one of the prime areas of Bhubaneswar having hotels, government and corporate offices citing lack of forest diversion clearance.
“In view of the acknowledged encroachment of forest land and, diversion of forest land having been undertaken without obtaining the mandatory clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, we are of the firm view that no further activity shall be taken up without first complying with the requirements of law,” ordered the NGT bench of justice SP Wangdi and expert member Saibal Dasgupta referring to the 436 acres of land marked as Forest Category (Jungle II) in government records.
The NGT bench further said that if the state government allows violation of the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, then the Ministry of Forest MoEF&CC can take appropriate action under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2003 against those responsible for permitting such violations. It also directed the state government, the Divisional Forest Officer and the MoEF&CC before the next hearing on February 19.
The January 5 order was uploaded on the NGT’s website on Thursday.
The NGT order came in response to a petition filed by Bhubaneswar-based activist Subash Mohapatra in 2019 challenging the inaction of the state government in checking the illegal and unauthorized use of 568 acres of revenue forest land (Jungle II Kisam) in Khata No 1427 of Jaydev Vihar Mouza in Bhubaneswar for non-forestry purpose. Mohapatra in his petition to the NGT had said that 44 institutions had set up hotels, corporate offices, a school and hospitals without applying for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
Hotels like Mayfair, Trident, Swosti Plaza, Sandy’s Towers and Suryansh and offices like Tech Mahindra, Nalco, Employees Insurance Corporation and Loyola School have come up on these lands over the last three decades. A CAG report in 2012 had first flagged the alleged violation of the FC Act by some of these entities.
Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes. In lieu of the land, money is collected by the government which is then used by the authorities for afforestation.
After Mohapatra filed his petition, the NGT in May 2019 had formed a committee comprising district collector and Divisional Forest Officer of Khurda to ascertain the veracity of his allegations and to take action in accordance with law if any of the alleged violations were found to be correct.
The committee in its report had informed the NGT that huge tracts of forest land were diverted for non-forest activities by various institutions without obtaining necessary clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It also said that the state government had asked 44 central and state Government, central and state undertakings and private institutions situated on the forest land to file proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry use and to obtain necessary clearances from the MoEF&CC. However, out of 44 institutions, clearance has been accorded by the MoEF&CC to only three institutions between 2014 and 2019.
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