NGT rules against diversion of forest land in central Bhubaneswar

‘No further activity shall be taken up without first complying with the requirements of law’

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to take appropriate action on the diversion of over 430 acres of forest category land in the centre of Bhubaneswar.

One Subash Mohapatra had moved the NGT stating that large tracts of forest land had been diverted for non-forest activities by various institutions without obtaining necessary clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

About 194.848 acres of highly valued land in the Jaydev Vihar area, which was leased out to 44 Central and State government power undertakings and private institutions, belonged to Forest Category Land II.

Though the General Administration and Public Grievance Department, Odisha had informed all the user agencies to file proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry use and to obtain necessary clearances from the MoEF&CC, only three institutions had been accorded clearance.

The proposal for diversion of 6.734 acres of land submitted by Tech Mahindra Limited is said to be under process at the Eastern Regional Office, Bhubaneswar, MoEF&CC.

Taking note of encroachment of forest land, the NGT Bench comprising of S.P. Wangdi, Judicial Member, and Saibal Dasgupta, Expert Member, said, “We are of the firm view that no further activity shall be taken up without first complying with the requirements of law.”

“If there are infractions, on the part of the State machinery in permitting violation of the stringent provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the MoEF&CC shall be at liberty to take appropriate action under Section 3 (a) and (b) of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 read with Rule 9 of the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2003 against those responsible for permitting such infractions,” said the tribunal.

The MoEF&CC, State government and concerned Divisional Forest Officer have been asked to file an action taken report. The government was asked to file a report on 242.209 acres (Kisam Jungle II), which is under encroachment by inhabitants in the Salia Sahi slum area, but the government had not furnished any report.

Urban development experts said the NGT order may hamper the growth of Bhubaneswar as the said land falls in a critical zone.

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