Despite a National Green Tribunal (NGT) notice to the Union Environment Ministry, Haryana government and its forest department regarding tree felling on land owned by a real estate company in the Aravalli area of Faridabad district, the Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) has “directed” subordinate officers to grant permission to the company allowing felling of trees.
Sources said the tree-felling is likely to take place on Sunday.
This is the third attempt in the last two months by the state government to give the go-ahead to the tree-felling.
On June 19, the NGT issued the notice on a petition filed by Lt Col (Retd) S S Oberoi against the Haryana government’s sanction for felling trees in the eco-sensitive Aravalli Hills. The next date of hearing was July 3.
On June 22, S K Gulati issued a letter, accessed by The Indian Express, ordering the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to issue permission for tree-felling to the company. The permission to axe over 6,000 mesquite trees, referred to as shrubs by the ACS (Forests), on the 52-acre plot owned by Bharti Realty Ltd has triggered disquiet among Haryana forest officials.
Forest department officers —- Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Divisional Forests Officer (DFO) —- have given permission for the tree felling as per Gulati’s order but on Saturday they conveyed to him that the matter was subjudice and that he should take legal opinion on the “operation of his decision”.
On May 17, 2013, the company was granted a colony licence on the plot in Sarai Khwaja village in Aravalli area of Faridabad district. They applied for tree-felling permission, but the DFO kept the application in abeyance since the state government was yet to decide on the status of such lands that fall in Natural Conservation Zones category.
Gulati cited several reasons for directing his officers to grant permission. He told The Sunday Express, “I am not aware of any such NGT notice. If anything is challenged, that does not mean that the government stop functioning. In this case, the land belongs to a private entity. The company was awarded licences and sought a permission to clear the land of shrubs. It proposed to cover 33 per cent area as green belt.”
Environment activists did not agree with the government’s “hasty decision”.
Activist Chetan Aggarwal said, “The area falls under the category of Gair Mumkin Pahaar (land unfit for cultivation) and is a deemed forest. Any decision permitting felling of trees in areas under question without identifying the forest would violate NGT orders. Also, since the matter was under litigation, they should have waited for the final orders of NGT.”
Last month, the forest department exempted Kikar and Mesquite, the predominant tree species across the Aravallis, from the purview of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1990 which under Section 4 prohibits “cutting (or) setting on fire of trees”. However, after severe criticism, the department withdrew its orders.