Forest and revenue authorities in Madhya Pradesh have initiated a probe after it emerged that hundreds of trees were allegedly felled in a forest area between Kaliasot and Kerwa dam during the lockdown.
It’s not clear whether the patch spread over hundreds of hectares is a notified forest, a deemed forest or private land. To end the confusion, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), while hearing a petition seeking a ban on all illegal activities in the area, had asked the state forest department to map it and take over deemed forest areas for administration.
The tribunal wanted the exercise to be completed by April 30, but the forest department and the revenue department were yet to take the first step when the lockdown due to Covid-19 was imposed on March 24.
“Many trees have been systematically felled in the last few weeks to reduce tree density, to ensure the area is not classified as a deemed forest as and when the mapping begins,” said activist Rashid Khan, the petitioner in the case before the NGT.
A Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) report, submitted in March 2019, had noted that a vast track of deemed forest area lying between Kerwa and Kaliasot was being used for various non-forestry activities without permission.
Bhopal DFO H S Mishra told The Indian Express he has written to revenue officials to take action. “I have promised cooperation from forest department but they haven’t gotten back. I don’t know what action they have taken,” he said. Mishra said that because the classification — whether notified or reserved forest — of the area is not clear, there is no clarity on who is in charge.
Sub-Divisional Magistrate (T T Nagar) Rajesh Shukla said mapping the area is the forest department’s responsibility, and that most of the area belonged to the Capital Project Administration or the forest department.
In the last few years, the area has also seen regular movement of tigers from Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. A forest corridor exists between Ratapani and Bhopal via Kerwa.
“…it is a vital tiger habitat of the state, still forming the territory of some active tigers,” the report noted, adding, “to save the further destruction of this important tiger habitat all the remaining deemed forest areas maybe quickly mapped, notified and handed over to the state forest department for administration.”
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