The Madras High Court Bench here on Tuesday said that it has decided to give top priority to restoration of Shola forests (patches of stunted evergreen moist broad leaf forests) in Kodaikanal, the Nilgiris, Palani and the entire Western Ghats in the State.
A Division Bench of Justices R. Sudhakar and V.M. Velumani directed Forest Department officials to file a report by Monday listing out steps taken by them pursuant to interim directions issued by the court on a public interest litigation petition on February 27 last year.
The interim order stated that the authorities concerned should take steps to annihilate exotic species such as wattle and eucalyptus that had invaded marshes, Shola forests and grasslands on the Western Ghats and formulate a comprehensive scheme for restoration of Shola forests.
Special Government Pleader M. Govindan informed the court that pursuant to the interim order, a meeting of forest and revenue officials was convened on March 18 last year by the then Additional Chief Secretary and an expert committee was formed to study wattle and eucalyptus menace. According to proceedings issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests on March 26, 2014, the expert committee was to be headed by the then Chief Conservator of Forests (Research) Basavaraju, he said and urged the court to give some more time for the committee to file its report.
On the other hand, PIL petitioner’s counsel T. Lajapathi Roy contended that the forest officials were hesitating to annihilate the eucalyptus and wattle trees by misinterpreting an order passed by the Supreme Court on November 25, 2005 with respect to removal of dead and wind fallen trees.
After hearing both sides, the Division Bench directed the government pleader as well as petitioner’s counsel to submit all relevant documents including the 2005 apex court order on Monday and said that it would hear the case on a weekly basis and issue appropriate directions.
They also permitted advocate Sadiq Raja, counsel for an intervening petitioner, to submit his arguments since he apprehended that the forest department officials might use the annihilated wattle and eucalyptus trees for commercial purpose.