Shifting the blame

About five lakh trees were felled by the IAF last year. Till today, no action has been taken

Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

THE cutting of about five lakh trees by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the Tilpat forest range of Haryana last year is still shrouded in controversy. V K Bahuguna, deputy-director general, forest protection division (FPD), says that the Forest Protection Acts in most states prohibit anyone from eliminating forests without prior permission. However, the IAF Justifies its action to cut trees near their air base citing flight safety and defence security concerns.

According to FPD officials, the district forest officer (DFO), Tilpat range, has disowned responsibility, saying that rules in Haryana do not allow the state government to intervene in defence matters. The DFO says the land in which the trees were cut belongs to the IAF. Following a question in Parliament over the issue, the defence ministry had ordered an inquiry. The report is still awaited.

Bahuguna says that the trees that were felled were part of the natural forest cover. But the IAF claims that they had grown the trees as a part of IAF's strategic defence planning. The IAF authorities maintain that they have uprooted mostly wild kikar bushes and small-size trees in the Tilpat range as the thick vegetation was obstructing the view of the "target area" and was also considered a flight safety hazard.

Experts say that trees obstruct radar vision. "In a state like Tripura, the laws do not permit such practices unless the forest department gives prior permission. I think the forest rules in Haryana are toothless," Bahuguna says.

Moreover, with the increased human habitation near the Tilpat range in recent past, birds were coming in the flight path. Another reason for uprooting the trees was that there was an increasing threat of getting the base identified with the help of satellites, experts note. "These are legal matters which need to be discussed in a greater detail," says Bahuguna.

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