The Himachal Pradesh government’s plans to let out forest guest houses and eco-tourism sites for commercial activities have received a major blow with the Supreme Court holding that such guest houses and inspection bungalows located inside forests cannot be transferred to private and commercial entities.
The order was passed on Thursday by a division bench comprising Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta on a petition relating to misuse of the forest rest houses and bungalows, which were being handed over to private entities in the name of public-private partnerships.
The bench accepted the report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, which had recommended that only forest authorities could grant bookings/reservations for forest rest houses.
The state government was in the process of privatising/developing 113 sites, of which five were sold out under the PPP model and 16 others were awaiting auction.
The HP State Forest Corporation also had plans to run 47 sites for the eco-tourism activities.
However, the SC issued specific guidelines/directions to the state for control and maintenance of Forest Rest Houses (FRH) and Inspection Bungalows (IBs) located inside forests. “These facilities are created for camping of forest officers primarily for the discharge of their duties connected with conservation, protection and management of forests and wildlife. Therefore, the control of FRHs, including their reservation, shall under all circumstances remain with the Forest Department,” said the order. Additional Chief Secretary (Forest and Environment) Tarun Kapoor said the government was yet to receive/examine the order of the Supreme Court, which will have country-wide impact.
He, however, said only a few days back, he had proposed to the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment to frame guidelines for use of forest properties/sites for eco-tourism or commercial activities.