Criticising the state Forest department and National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) for not initiating compensatory afforestation in lieu of the trees cut along NH7 from Mansar, Nagpur, to Khawasa, Madhya Pradesh, for road widening work, the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court has directed the Principal Secretary (Forest) and the Head of Forest Force (HoFF) to personally explain the lack of action to the court in the next hearing on July 14.
The matter had come up for hearing on Thursday before the Bench of Justices Bhushan Gavai and V M Deshpande.
The Bench asked Government Pleader Bharti Dangre the status of the afforestation work. She replied the work hadn’t been initiated yet. The bench said, “While felling the trees, the Forest department was in a hurry and now when it comes to compensatory afforestation, they are delaying.” It then directed Dangre to ask Principal Secretary (Forest) and HoFF to be personally present in the court on July 14 to explain the “dilly dallying”.
Justice Gavai had been locked in a battle of jurisdiction in the case with the National Green Tribunal, a couple of months ago, and had set aside the tribunal’s order against cutting trees for widening the highway that runs through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor.
“You came running to be rescued from the learned Green Tribunal’s orders and we saved you from the Green Tribunal. You did not want to follow the Green Tribunal’s orders and now you are misleading the High Court,” Justice Gavai said.
The government pleader apologised and prevented the issuance of a notice of aggravated contempt against the government and the Forest department. “Maybe 10-15 days imprisonment can solve the problem,” Justice Gavai said.
Justice Gavai said that he had made it amply clear that the court would not compromise on environment for permitting development. Dangre said the state was to plant the trees over 10 years. However, Justice Gavai said if the plantation was to be done over ten years, the road expansion should also be allowed after ten years.
NHAI had to submit a report on the progress of implementation of mitigation measures to the court on Thursday but failed as there are two reports on the same and some discrepancies between them. Justice Gavai warned the NHAI counsel that any variation from the court orders on mitigation measures would not be tolerated. Justice Gavai had earlier pushed for widening of road with mitigation measures, suggested by Wildlife Institute of India.
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