Wildlife authorities plan to create three percolation ponds in the area; environmentalists upset

The move to clear a large patch of the forest inside the Guindy National Park (GNP) has come as a shock to naturalists and environmentalists.

Several trees, in a substantial area of the forest near Body Road, have been felled over the past fortnight. Explaining the reasons for the clearing, wildlife authorities said they proposed to create three percolation ponds inside the GNP to tap the water draining into the stormwater drains. Last year, as there was inadequate rainfall, this had directly affected the water supply for visitors to the Children’s Park.

Moreover, as the number of visitors to the Children’s Park was increasing every year, the authorities said they were unable to match the increasing demand with the available water resources within the GNP. Hence, a proposal for the ponds was sent to the government for its approval.

The work on creating the percolation ponds began nearly a fortnight ago. The first point identified, where the work is in progress, is on the eastern end of the GNP, adjacent to the parking area, the wildlife authorities said, claiming no big trees were felled for executing this work.

Opposing the action to clear the forest patch, environmental activist Nithyanand Jayaraman said: “If trees can be cut with such impunity in a protected area within a national park, what hope is there for trees outside?”

The present circumstance had underlined the urgent need for a declaration of buffer zone around the GNP, he said.

M. Santhana Raman, advocate, Madras High Court, said the Supreme Court in its order dated December 12, 1996, in the case between Godavarman Tirumalpad vs. Union of India, held that: “All ongoing activity within any forest in any state without prior permission from Central Govt must stop forthwith. Other felling of trees in all forests is directed to remain suspended in accordance with working plan of State Governments as approved by Central Government. These orders and directions shall continue till further orders of the court and operate and be complied with by all concerned, notwithstanding any order at variance made or which may be made hereafter by any authority including the Central or State Government or any high court or Tribunal.”

In the same case, by another order dated February 14, the apex court said that no removal of dead, diseased, dying or wind fallen trees, driftwood and grasses from any national park or game sanctuary or forest was permitted. Orders contrary to this, passed by any State government, would be nullified immediately.

By another order dated September 16, 2005, the apex court held that no temporary working permit shall be granted in the national parks, sanctuaries and forest areas without complying with environmental laws, particularly the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

Therefore, any non-forest activity in the protected areas, contrary to the management plan, is illegal.

Mr. Santhana Raman said that in most States, forest officials, under the pretext of taking up works prescribed in the management plan, clear or take up non-forestry activity that was detrimental to the ecology, environment and wildlife.

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