August 12, 2021 9:26:49 am
The Telangana High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to refrain from cutting 1300 trees in the Eco-Sensitive Zone of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (KBR) national park in the city, until further orders. It also sought a detailed counter affidavit, furnishing details such as the numbers of trees cut so far, their age, varieties, etc.
On Wednesday, responding to a petition filed by city-based activists Kaajal Maheshwari, Jasveen Jairath and Sagar Dhara, the division bench comprising Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B Vijaysen Reddy directed the state government, the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of Telangana Forests department to furnish details and not cut a single tree until further orders.
In 2015, the state government proposed to develop six junctions around the KBR national park by building multi-level flyovers under Strategic Road Development Plan(SRDP). This required the chopping of more than 1300 trees for widening the roads. As part of the same, it had proposed modification of the ESZ and finalised reduction of the park’s walkway to between 3 and 29.8 metres from the present 25 to 35 metres from its boundary. In 2020, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests cleared the state government’s proposal to reduce the width of the walkway while the Expert Committee of the ministry had sought a detailed report after conducting a public hearing over the draft notification. Environmental activists have alleged that no public hearing was ever conducted.
The petitioner’s counsel Ritwick Dutta argued that the first original draft notification for the KBR Park provided an area of 25-35 m (which is the entire walkway) as ESZ. This was, however, later reduced to almost 3 m to 29.8 m in order to accommodate the SRDP. The whole purpose of having an ESZ as a shock absorber, as per the supreme court order, is defeated, he said.
Demanding the notification to be struck down, he further pointed out that a final notification was issued by the MoEF on October 27, 2020 without waiting for submission of the report of public hearing even as the expert committee of MoEF stated that a public hearing was conducted but the report was not available due to the pandemic situation.
Justice Kohli reiterated that until the date of the next hearing the respondents are restrained from felling 1300 trees located within the ESZ. “This is a specific injunction order, restraint means absolute restraint – you will not cut a single tree until you come with a suggestion how you will save the trees. 1300 trees is a lot, only on the suggestion that you will substitute them. You know how long it will take for the trees. In the next Affidavit, respondent no 3(PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden, Telangana) will give the age of all the trees, the varieties of the trees, etc and also specifically state how many trees have been felled of the said trees. The remaining trees shall not be felled till further orders.”
Activist Kaajal Maheshwari, who has been at the core of the campaign to save KBR national park, called it another historic victory for a strong citizens’ movement. “The “Save KBR Campaign” is to Hyderabad what the “Save Aarey Campaign” was to Mumbai. Similar are the manipulations and unethical means to achieve what the government wishes to achieve in spite of the citizens’ humble struggle to save its iconic national Park. However today’s hearing was unique as some of the finer nuances were unearthed,” she told the press.
The next hearing is posted for September 29.
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