Updated: February 6, 2021 5:34:01 am
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has asked the Uttarakhand government to revisit its proposal regarding non-forestry use of 87 hectares (ha) of forest land in Dehradun for the expansion of Jolly Grant airport.
The move comes in the wake of Uttarakhand High Court’s observations pertaining to conservation of wildlife and fragmentation of the forest area serving as a link for movement for wildlife species.
In its January 11 order, the High Court stayed implementation of the state government’s January 8 notification to denotify Shivalik Elephant Reserve.
A bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Manoj Kumar Tiwari observed, “Lastly, if, the notification were permitted to operate and, in case, the proposed area is diverted for the purpose of expansion of the Airport, an irrevocable loss would be caused, both to the environment, and to the elephant population.”
In a letter to Uttarakhand forest department dated January 30, Charan Jeet Singh, Scientist ‘D’ in Forest Conservation Division of the Union Ministry stated, “Recently, Hon’ble High Court of Uttarakhand has made crucial observation in respect of wildlife values of the area. The State Government may, therefore, re-visit the proposal in light of observations contained in the Hon’ble High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital order dated 11.01.2021, specially with reference to issues pertaining to the conservation and protection of wildlife and fragmentation of the forest area serving as connecting link for intermittent or stray movement for charismatic wildlife species of the State,”
What activists are arguing
According to environmental activists, elephants are large migratory animals and require a large area for survival and propagation. Shivalik Elephant Reserve is spread over 5,409 sq km. Environmentalists argue that if denotified, the area of the reserve will get fragmented and there will be construction and mining activities that will increase human intervention, leading to a rise in human-wildlife conflicts.
When contacted, Singh said the state has been asked to revisit the proposal and address the observations.
Earlier, in a letter dated October 9, 2020, the ministry had asked the state government to consider avoiding “sensitive areas” of the elephant reserve while exploring land suitable for expansion of the airport and sought additional information.
In its response dated December 26, the state government stated that there is no viable alternative. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and nodal officer, Uttarakhand, D J K Sharma’s letter justified the proposed activity by stating that Uttarakhand shares international border with China and Nepal, and thus this airport is of strategic importance.
The ministry’s January 30 communication stated that on the examination of the additional information received, it has been found that the state has not completely addressed the issues raised by the ministry in its October 9 letter and sought more information.
The letter stated, “Reply of the state government is silent on fragmentation of the riverside forests. Comments provided (by) the state government on 47 hectare of MDF land involved in the project does not seem convincing for want of detail of alternatives sites studied/discarded thereby establishing inescapability of 47 hectare of MDF land for the intended purpose.”
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