Illegal constructions have allegedly come up at the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), which is a part of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR) spread across Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Ratnagiri districts of Maharashtra. A Bombay High Court order (on PIL No. 140/2010. Nana Khamkar vs Union of India and Others) issued on October 18, 2010, has put a ban on constructions in the notified area of Koyna WLS.
The state forest department recently filed complaints against two persons, Suleman Ayub Chaki and Sanjay Mahadev Bavle, for alleged contempt of the HC order. They face allegations of carrying out illegal constructions on their lands in Gokul village in Koyna WLS.
The Indian Express found the alleged illegal constructions have come up close to the commercial “lake view” resorts in Koyna. No banner has been put up at the two sites. Also, no one has been deployed to guard the properties. Chaki and Bavle were not available for comment.
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While the complaint was registered a fortnight ago, Wildlife Warden Rohan Madhukar Bhate in Satara said he had brought it to the notice of the forest department several times in the past seven months. Bhate filed an RTI application in June with the department. In its reply dated July 29, 2015, the department said the HC order banning all constructions in Koyna WLS was still in place and no permission had been given to the two private constructions in Gokul. The department said it had begun an inquiry, but did not provide any documents.
Bhate again complained to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Sarjan Bhagat this month, demanding severe penalty and action against those behind the alleged private constructions. Forest officials in Koyna Nagar then lodged a complaint against Chaki and Bavle under Section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
“Even after replying to my RTI query saying the constructions had come up without permission, the department took a long time to lodge a complaint. I suspect these private properties are farmhouses, holiday homes or resorts. I have provided evidence of a stream artificially blocked to make a pond. The water overflowing from it has been diverted through a cement channel in a private property, which is against the law. Forest officials should carry out a thorough probe and take stern action,” Bhate said.
When contacted, Bhagat said, “Action has been initiated, but I cannot say anything more as I am yet to get a detail report on it.”
Assistant Conservator of Forest (Koyna) Subhash Puranik said, “Based on the complaint, we have charged Chaki and Bavle with causing destruction to habitat in the sanctuary. The private constructions have come up on land owned by them. But it is a violation of the HC order.”
Khamkar, an environmentalist, said, “Our PIL was against encroachments, illegal constructions by windmills and resorts… It was not against local villagers doing small constructions or alterations in existing constructions for domestic purpose, which is allowed under a 2006 Supreme Court order.”
“After the HC order in our case, the government got a whopping Rs 35 crore in fine imposed on 206 windmill firms, nine resorts and an illegal construction by the irrigation department in Koyna area,” he added.