THE NATIONAL Green Tribunal (NGT) has restrained all construction and non-forest activity in the ‘forest alike’ areas in Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani eco-sensitive zones as part of interim relief on an application filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group.
The NGO had approached the green court over concerns of destruction of ‘forest alike’ areas within the eco-sensitive zone.
The hill stations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani have seen illegal construction in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act despite being declared an eco-sensitive zone in 2001.
The BEAG had approached the NGT after a state-appointed high-level monitoring committee concluded in February 2016 that ‘forest like’ areas have no legal basis and that their identification had to be reconsidered.
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It also stated that the definition of ‘forest alike’ areas need not be adhered to for permissions in the regulated ESZ till the legal steps to identify it is complete. “The identification of areas locally called ‘Vansadrushya’ or ‘forest alike’ areas was done as per the Supreme Court order.
In areas like Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani, which are plateaus and therefore flat, they may not have visible standing forests but the green cover is included in the ‘forest alike’ areas, which have no actual difference with forest areas. The destruction of trees in this ecologically fragile area will cause permanent damage,” said Hema Ramani, project executive, BEAG.
She said the NGO had, therefore, approached the NGT to ensure no new permissions are given for construction, destruction and development in these areas. The western zone bench of the NGT led by Justice Jawad Rahim, judicial member and Ajay A Deshpande, expert member, granted the interim relief while directing no tree felling in violation of the ESZ notification be done in the area.
“We restrain all non-forest activity in the “forest alike” areas or ‘Vansadrushya’ in Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani Ecosensitive zone areas, carried out in violation of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980,” the order said.
It also bars any new construction or development activity as well.
It has also directed the Urban Development Department of the Maharashtra government to give details of survey numbers and map identified as “forest alike areas”.
The NGT also rapped the Ministry of Environment and Forests, stating it was pained by its conduct in not participating in the proceeding to assist the Tribunal.