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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

NGT asks Punjab forest conservator to probe, take action against those who axed 1,065 trees on Faridkot sugar mill premises

At least 993 fully-grown trees can still be saved if timely action is taken, says forest department.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: June 8, 2021 12:52:23 pm
Green cover at Faridkot Sugar Mills. Express Photo)

A bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Punjab Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF, Head of Forest Force) to ‘look into the grievances and take remedial measures in a case of alleged illegal tree felling on the premises of Faridkot Cooperative Sugar Mills.

As per the latest assessment report of the state forest department, of the total 2058 trees of different species that were standing in the sugar mill premises, at least 1,065 trees (more than 50 per cent of the total count) have already been axed. However, as many as 993 fully-grown trees, which are still standing, can be saved if timely action is taken.

The green court — while hearing a petition filed by environmental activists Kapil Arora, Jaskirat Singh of Ludhiana and Gurpreet Singh Chandbaja of Faridkot — issued an order stating, “On the subject of alleged illegal felling of 2058 trees in the premises of the Faridkot Cooperative Sugar Mills Ltd, we direct the PCCF (HoFF), Punjab, to look into the grievance and take remedial measures for the enforcement of the rule of law. The Chief Conservator of Forests may, after ascertaining the facts, take such remedial measures as may be found necessary, including coercive measures against anyone found responsible for violating the law. The application is disposed of.”

Of the total 2058 trees of different species that were standing in the sugar mill premises, at least 1,065 trees (more than 50 per cent of the total count) have already been axed. (Express Photo)

Speaking to The Indian Express, Amritpal Singh, divisional forest officer (DFO), Ferozepur forest range, said that as per the latest assessment and counting of trees carried out by their department, a total of 993 trees of different species were still standing on the premises of Faridkot Cooperative Sugar Mill, which has been lying shut for more than a decade.

“Last year, the sugar mill owners (which functions under Sugarfed) had asked us for monetary assessment of trees standing on the premises, spread over 136 acres. We had communicated to them that a total of 2058 trees, worth Rs 56 lakh, were there and along with this, we had clearly mentioned in the letter that the forest department was not granting them any permission to cut fully grown green trees. However, those trees are not our property and they are not on forest land, so we had no further role in the matter and it was their (the mill owners) decision to get the trees chopped. A private firm, via a tendering process, was hired for the chopping of trees” said the officer.

He said that later there was an uproar over the trees being axed and several NGOs and green activists launched protests on the site to save trees that were the homes of several birds and animals.

A fresh counting was done which showed that at least 993 trees could still be saved. He said that several species of shady, fruit bearing and fully-grown trees, such as mango, jamun, sheesham, drek, and kikkar, among others, have been found in the area. Birds such as peacocks, pigeons, parrots apart from other flora-fauna are also found in abundance, he said.

A fresh counting was done which showed that at least 993 trees could still be saved. (Express Photo)

As per a series of three letters (copies of which The Indian Express has seen), the forest department assessed the minimum cost of the trees after a request for the same was put in by the general manager, Faridkot sugar mills (now transferred to Bhogpur Cooperative Sugar Mills).

In the first letter dated February 10, 2020, written by the General Manager, Faridkot Sugar Mill to divisional forest officer, it was written that a lot ‘thick, thin, green and dry trees of several species — including mango, jamun, drek — are standing on the land of sugar mill’ and so the ‘forest department is requested to assess the minimum cost of these trees so that further action could be taken.

In the next letter, dated July 15, 2020, which was written by DFO Ferozepur range to the GM Sugar Mil, the forest department said that after the initial assessment it was found that a total of 2058 trees were standing on the land of sugar mill and they were worth Rs 56.03 lakh.

However, the forest department’s letter further stated, ‘It is only an estimated cost of the trees…This letter does not permit you or anyone to cut/axe green trees. The entire responsibility of axing green trees will be of your department….’

“We had clearly stated in our communication to sugar mill general manager that we are not providing any NOC/permit to axe trees. Neither these trees are in our jurisdiction nor on forest land. We are not the owners of these 2058 trees and it was entirely the decision of sugar mill owners to chop them. We can only assess number of trees and their estimated cost, if requested,” said DFO.

Another letter to the DFO by the range officer, dated May 17, 2021, read, ‘…as per the assessment of trees on sugar mill land, the dead/dry and fallen trees are 36 and green trees are 2022.. a total of 2058. No permission was granted ever to chop/axe green, standing trees, and if they are axed, the entire responsibility is of Faridkot Sugar Mills Limited.. Ehna rukkhan da van vibhaag naal koi sambandh nahi hai.. (These trees have no link with the forest department).’

“The letter indicates that majority of the 1065 trees that have been chopped were green and fully grown,” said the DFO.

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