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Bombay High Court clears tree-felling in critical tiger habitat against NGT ruling
In what could be seen as a clear contempt of the National Green Tribunal’s order, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has ruled that trees be felled for the expansion of National Highway-7 (NH7) in Maharashtra. Earlier the NGT had stayed the Maharashtra Forest Department’s order to fell trees for the purpose of widening of NH7.
The case in NGT has been on the widening of NH7 on the 60-kilometre stretch between Mansar in Maharashtra and Rukhad in Madhya Pradesh. The region is considered to be a critical tiger corridor and is close to the Kanha and Pench Tiger reserves, which are said to home 33 percent of the tigers in the country. According to the Maharashtra Forest Department, around 35,000 trees will have to be felled in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for the project.
The petition against the widening project was filed by three NGOs: Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, Nature Conservation Society of Amravati and Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai.
The Bombay High Court bench comprising of Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Indira Jain openly expressed the superiority of jurisdiction by virtue of Article 226 of the Constitution and Justice Gavai repeatedly referred to the NGT as “some tribunal created under some laws”. The High Court has also asked the state Forest Department to seek the aid of NHAI for felling equipments.
In the hearing at NGT today, the NHAI counsel Pinaki Mishra pointed out the High Court order and said that the NHAI was caught between two courts. To this, NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar replied saying that NHAI cannot fell trees as there is no question the NGT giving up its powers and that the interim order staying felling of trees will continue to operate till further orders.
Despite this, the forest department in Nagpur has decided to follow the High Court’s directive to issue permission to fell trees along the road between Mansar in Nagpur district and Khawasa in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh.
The case of widening of NH7 has been surrounded by controversy as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had rejected the mitigation proposals of building overpasses to facilitate wildlife movement provided by the Wildlife Institute of India.
The NGT has fixed the next hearing for the case on August 5.
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