The National Green Tribunal on Friday told the forest officials of Uttarakhand that it would direct the Union government to form a committee to probe the matter of ‘illegal tree cutting’ in Jim Corbett National Park.
The apex green court had earlier taken cognisance of The Hindu’s report on felling of trees at the Corbett Tiger Reserve. The report had quoted a Forest Survey of India (FSI) report saying that over 6,000 trees were illegally cut to facilitate the Pakhru tiger safari project at the tiger reserve.
Mr Samir Sinha, Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttarakhand, who appeared before the NGT on Friday, told The Hindu that the State government had apprised the court about steps taken in the matter of ‘alleged illegal tree cutting”. “The court said it is asking the Centre to form a committee to investigate the allegations,” he added.
To recall, in its October 2 edition, The Hindu had published that the much-awaited tiger safari project of Uttarakhand government was under scanner after the FSI report stated that over 6,000 trees were illegally cut in the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) against the permission given for 163. The State forest department refuted the FSI’s claims and said that there were some technical issues which needed to be resolved before finally accepting the report.
The matter of thousands of trees being felled illegally in Corbett was also highlighted by Gaurav Bansal, an environment activist and lawyer based in Delhi. Mr. Bansal later made a complaint to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in which he alleged that 10,000 trees were cut in the protected area.
Taking cognisance of the complaint, the State had asked the FSI to access the number of trees felled in the designated area inside the tiger reserve. After compiling the report in around 9 months on the Pakhru block, Kalushaheed block, Nalkhatta block, and Kalagarh block, the FSI has come up with an observation that the area cleared under CTR is estimated at 16.21 hectare (hac). An estimated 6,093 trees were cleared from the area, a senior official of the Uttarakhand forest department, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu.
Meanwhile, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of the Forest Force, Vinod Singhal accepted that the FSI found that 6,421 trees were illegally cut. He also maintained that the forest department had some issues with the FSI report and hence it has not been accepted yet.
Sprawling over 500 square kilometres, CTR is home to 230 tigers and has the world’s highest tiger density — at 14 tigers per hundred square kilometres.
Former Forest Minister of Uttarakhand Harak Singh Rawat had laid the foundation stone of the Pakhro tiger safari, which would be operated in the Pakhro zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) in Lansdowne area of Pauri Garhwal. Spread over an area of 106 hectares, when completed, it would be the State’s first tiger safari that would have tigers in enclosures to ensure “100% sighting”.