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NGT orders probe into alleged illegal use of Assam forest land for commando camp

NGT orders probe into alleged illegal use of Assam forest land for commando camp

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has initiated an investigation into the alleged illegal diversion of 28 hectares of forest land in the Geleky Reserve Forest, Sivasagar district, for establishing an Assam police commando battalion.

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NGT orders probe into alleged illegal use of Assam forest land for commando camp NGT orders probe into alleged illegal use of Assam forest land for commando camp

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has initiated an investigation into the alleged illegal diversion of 28 hectares of forest land in the Geleky Reserve Forest, Sivasagar district, for establishing an Assam police commando battalion. 

The Assam Forest Department is accused of authorizing this diversion without necessary approvals, leading to significant environmental concerns.

The NGT's eastern bench, in an order dated May 29, has issued notices to several parties, including the Assam government, the Assam Forest Department, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the District Commissioner of Sivasagar, and the Divisional Forest Officer. This action follows an application by environmental activist Rohit Choudhury, alleging that MK Yadava, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Head of Forest Force, illegally approved the land's use for non-forestry activities.

A committee has been constituted to investigate the matter, comprising senior officials from the MoEFCC, including the Additional Director General of Forests dealing with the Forest (Conservation) Act, an Additional Secretary nominated by the MoEFCC Secretary, and the Deputy Director General of Forests, Integrated Regional Office, Meghalaya. This committee is tasked with visiting the site and submitting a detailed report, with the Additional Director General of Forests serving as the nodal officer.

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The NGT stated that the issue raises substantial environmental concerns and potential violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The tribunal emphasized the necessity of examining the situation thoroughly.

Petitioner Rohit Choudhury claims that MK Yadava, now the Special Chief Secretary (Forests) for Assam, misused his authority to bypass legal requirements such as compensatory afforestation and payment of Net Present Value (NPV). This allegation points to significant procedural violations that could hold Yadava personally accountable for the environmental damage.

This probe comes amid broader scrutiny of forest land use in Assam. The NGT's New Delhi bench is already examining another case of alleged illegal diversion of 44 hectares of protected forest land for a similar commando battalion near the Assam-Mizoram border in Hailakandi district. This earlier diversion, also approved by Yadava during his tenure as PCCF, sparked significant controversy and led to intervention by the Union environment ministry, which halted the construction in March.

In the Hailakandi case, the Union environment ministry admitted that the construction violated the Forest Conservation Amendment Act, reinforcing concerns about the governance of forest lands in Assam. This ongoing scrutiny reflects a pattern of alleged irregularities in forest land management under Yadava's oversight.

The Geleky Reserve Forest incident is further complicated by the longstanding boundary dispute between Assam and Nagaland, which has historically resulted in violence and land encroachment issues. The establishment of the commando battalion was purportedly aimed at preventing such encroachments, highlighting the complex interplay between environmental conservation and regional security.

As the investigation progresses, the NGT's findings and subsequent actions will be crucial in addressing both the environmental and legal implications of the alleged illegal land use.

Edited By: Atiqul Habib
Published On: Jun 01, 2024