Govt. rebuts contention that campus is not in ‘forest area’

The State environment and forests department on Monday rebutted the contention of the Indian Institute of Technology–Madras (IIT-M) that it is not situated on forest land.

In an affidavit filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Southern Bench, the department countered the claim made by IIT-M last week that that its campus was not situated in ‘forest area’ and that it had only utilised space available after clearing invasive shrub species like prosopis juliflora (‘veli kaathan’) to create new facilities.

According to the department, in 1961, the government denotified a portion of the area notified as reserve forest and handed it over to IIT-M. However, there are large underdeveloped or unutilised areas inside the campus, and a thriving resident wild animal population.

The tree cover also qualifies it as a forest as defined by the Supreme Court on December 12, 1996. Thus, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, is applicable in the case of land qualified to be a forest, the department contended.

It further stressed that IIT-M can develop the area qualified to be a forest only with permission from the Central government.

The counsel for the State government said that any projects that fall within a 10-kilometre boundary of national parks and sanctuaries, and involving built-up area of more than 20,000 sq.m., shall obtain environmental clearance from competent authorities on recommendation from the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife.

The department said that IIT-M should be ordered to maintain the undeveloped area as it is and not develop them without clearance from the competent authority.

IIT-M should also be prevented from harming the habitat and movement of wildlife population in the area and commit to plant 10 tall saplings for every tree felled, it said.

NGT has posted the next hearing to May 29.

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