NGT raps govt for not probing forest staff’s role in illegal felling

NGT raps govt for not probing forest staff’s role in illegal felling

The Tribunal has directed the Chief Secretary to file a personal affidavit as to why the directions issued on August 16, 2018, have not been complied with.

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 10

The Punjab Government was today pulled up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to investigate the role of forest officials in the alleged felling of 24,777 trees under a project to widen the 800-km-long Bist-Doab canal during the SAD-BJP rule in 2016.

24,777 trees axed

  • The case pertains to the felling of 24,777 trees under a project to widen the 800-km-long Bist-Doab canal during the SAD-BJP rule in 2016

  • The state had deputed Additional Chief Secretary-cum-Financial Commissioner, Taxation, MP Singh to conduct the probe, but he retired last month without submitting the report, said sources

Taking a serious note of the failure on part of the state to comply with the directions passed by the Tribunal and the Supreme Court, a double Bench of the NGT, comprising Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore and member Satyawan Singh Garbyal, observed that no counsel on behalf of the state through its Chief Secretary and anyone on behalf of the Punjab Irrigation Department through its secretary appeared before it.

The Tribunal has directed the Chief Secretary to file a personal affidavit as to why the directions issued on August 16, 2018, have not been complied with. The Secretary, Punjab Irrigation (Water Resources Department), has been asked to be present on the next date of hearing i.e. January 27.

In December last year, an application was moved by Nishant Kumar Alag against the state government for not implementing the NGT orders for one-and-a-half-years.

The Tribunal observed that its orders, reaffirmed by the apex court, had directed the Chief Secretary to appoint an inquiry officer not below the rank of Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) to fix the responsibility of the officials, if any, for violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

Sources said the state had deputed Additional Chief Secretary-cum-Financial Commissioner, Taxation, MP Singh to conduct the probe, but the bureaucrat retired last month without submitting the report.

The NGT, in its August 16, 2018, order, had stated that a former principal chief conservator of forests and a divisional forest officer had deliberately ignored the fact that the trees stood in the area demarcated as protected forest and it was a willful violation of the Forest Conservation Act.

In the same order, the state government and the Forest Department had been asked to undertake compensatory afforestation on an area equivalent to the forest area destructed.

The cost of the afforestation had to be recovered from the Irrigation Department, the agency that widened the canal.

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