Punjab Minister Chunni Lal Bhagat met Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal Wednesday to apprise him of largescale uprooting of trees along the Sutlej Yamuna Link canal when villagers, egged on by politicians, rushed to fill the canal and reclaim land acquired for it.
JCB machines were pressed into action in good numbers to fill the canal at many places.
The move follows the passage of a Bill in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha Monday that provides for returning of the land acquired for constructing the canal to the original landowners.
“We have put forward our concern about trees in the area and whatever decision will be taken by the CM will abide by the existing laws. An amicable solution has to be reached to protect the interest of people as well as save the forest,” Bhagat told The Indian Express after his meeting with CM.
A forest department official said the Bill “violated” the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which states that no state government or other authority shall make, except with the prior approval of the central government, any order directing “that any forest land or any portion thereof may be assigned by way of lease or otherwise to any private person or to any authority, corporation, agency or any other organisation not owned, managed or controlled by government.”
After the land was acquired for the SYL project, said the official, on the directions of the Punjab government, the state Forest department planted lakhs of trees along the canal, making it a “preserved forest area”.
Even if the central government allows the uprooting the trees from such an area, said the official, there are certain conditions to be fulfilled like planting double the number of trees elsewhere. Secretary Forest Samir Kumar refused to speak on the matter whereas Head of Forest Department Kuldip Kumar remained unavailable for comment.
Another senior Punjab forest department officer said “I have written to deputy commissioner and senior superintendent of police to take the measures”.
Punjab Irrigation Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said, “As per the bill passed by the assembly, the land has to be returned to the owners. With this, rights and liabilities would also stand transferred. And if anyone wants to uproot any tree in that area, permission would be required from the competent authority.”
Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia said, “This a departmental thing and has no bearing on the bill passed by the assembly. Once the Act is in place, rest of the issues would be taken care of by concerned departments.”