Environment ministry asked to filed response on Amrit Mahal Kaval allotments by end of this month or pay penalty
The National Green Tribunal (South Zone) in Chennai has directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to file its response to applications challenging the diversion of about 4,000 hectares of Amrit Mahal Kavals grassland in Challakare taluk of Karnataka’s Chitradurga district for various projects. The directions were given on September 27 after petitioners in the case complained that development works on the grasslands have not been halted in spite of status quo ordered by the tribunal.
The court was considering interim applications filed by the petitioners—Bengaluru-based non-profit Environment Support Group (ESG) and Leo F Saldanha of ESG. The ministry has been asked to file its response by October 30. The Tribunal has warned MoEF that if it fails to comply with the order, it will have to pay Rs 1 lakh fine in each of the two pending applications. The tribunal had asked the ministry to file a response on the land diversion in March this year. The tribunal observed that the failure on the part of the MoEF to file its response, even seven months after being directed to do so, was an indication of careless attitude of the officials of the ministry.
“The ministry is the first respondent in the case and its response is a must for taking a decision in this case,” observed the bench comprising of Justice M Chockalingam and expert member R Nagendran.
The tribunal had issued an order on August 21 this year to maintain status quo on all project activities proposed in the Amrit Mahal Kaval grassland. In their interim applications, the petitioners pointed out that this order has not been complied with and that the public and private organizations that got land were moving ahead with project works, violating various laws protecting environment, wildlife, forests and people's rights.
MoEF had written to the Karnataka forest secretary in June 2013, directing him to file a detailed report in response to the specific cases of law violations as made out in the February 2013 representation of ESG; the main violation being illegal diversion of forestland to non-forest purposes. "But both the ministry and the Karnataka government suppressed this fact before the tribunal, and also the fact finding committee constituted by the tribunal,” said Leo Saldanha’s counsel in submissions made before the tribunal.
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