Ecological damage: Himalayan village under Supreme Court scanner

Supreme Court of India. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Jilling Estate, a small revenue village nestled in the pristine high-altitude forests of the Kumaon Himalayas, has come under the scanner of the Supreme Court for a wrong reason.

Home to the threatened species of leopards, the village, located in the Guni Gaon gram sabha of Nainital district in Uttarakhand, had till recently shaken under the heavy thuds of an earth mover. An appeal filed by a resident, Birendra Singh, in the apex court said the earth mover was laying the ground for the construction of “at least 44 massive villas and other huge structures, including helipad, resort cottages and hospitality zone.” Mr. Singh, represented by senior advocate Pinkai Misra, advocates Karthik Jayashankar and Vipin Nair, argued that the project was without environmental sanction and spread over a 90-acre hillside of the ecologically-fragile Kumaon containing sub-tropical pine and moist Himalayan forests.

Mr. Singh had come to the apex court in appeal against an order passed by the National Green Tribunal on July 24, 2018. He accused the NGT of not adjudicating on the issue, of wrongly applying the law and completely misreading its own Court Commissioner’s report that non-forest activity should be stopped till a survey is done by the Uttarakhand revenue and forest departments. The Commissioner had also said the area in question “definitely qualifies to be a forest in terms of the dictionary meaning of the term ‘forest’.”

A Bench of Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and Indu Malhotra, on October 1, acknowledged the seriousness of the issue. The Bench issued notice to the respondents, including the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It ordered status quo. The case is now due to come on November 16 for hearing.

Mr. Singh, who was also represented by senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, argued that the project was in total violation of a February 16, 2018 order passed by the Supreme Court in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case, allowing the Himachal Pradesh government to only carry out “silviculture felling” of trees, and that too, under close monitoring.

Experimental basis

“Felling of trees in India has been banned for more than two decades. We are of the view that on an experimental basis we may permit silviculture felling of trees to a very limited extent and such felling should be monitored very carefully to see whether such silviculture felling actually helps in the regeneration of forests or not,” the Supreme Court had made its stand clear on the felling of trees in the Himalayan forests.

In his petition, Mr. Singh pointed out that “uncontrolled felling has continued despite the law relating to ‘forests’ having been settled long ago by the Supreme Court.” The appellant argued that the court’s orders remain “largely unimplemented” and this has led to “the irreparable destruction of the pristine forests of the Himalayas.”

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 12:55:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/ecological-damage-himalayan-village-under-supreme-court-scanner/article25469750.ece

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