A public interest litigation petition was filed before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Monday seeking restoration of the Megamalai forest range. It sought an inquiry against forest officials under Section 3B of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for their “inaction” in curbing felling of trees in the range.
A Division Bench of Justices M. Venugopal and R. Tharani directed notice to the District Collector, Theni, Environment and Forests secretary and top forest officials to file their counters by January 10.
The petitioner, S. Pandi of Theni, said Theni district had a forest cover of 33%, higher than Tamil Nadu’s average of 17.4%, and Megamalai was a crucial ecosystem from where the Vaigai originated, which is the main source of water for Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts and home to different species of animals.
“The Tamil Nadu government is considering conversion of this region into Megamalai-Srivilliputtur Tiger Reserve as the forest range is rich in biodiversity. The Megamalai sanctuary connects the Periyar Tiger Reserve with the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary,” he said.
But encroachments, illegal grazing, tree felling and poaching affected the forests. Large tracts of the forest had been converted into tea, cardamom and coffee plantations. There were also illegal activities such as cultivation of ganja, said the petitioner.
Close to 300 natural trees had been felled on the estates to make way for the roads, he charged.
The Theni Collector constituted a committee comprising officers from the Survey and Revenue departments to look into the felling of trees.
It had been established in the report that tree felling did take place, claimed the petitioner.
The petitioner said that close to 100 families living in the forest area had expressed their willingness to be relocated, but the forest authorities were not facilitating the move as they were in tandem with estate owners who wanted uninterrupted labour supply, said the petitioner.
The petitioner said that he moved the court following the inaction of the authorities concerned in curbing the felling of trees and he wanted appropriate action to be taken against them.