Divisional forest officer of Assam writes to Numaligarh general manager, cites the NGT’s 2016 verdict about wall being a barrier to an elephant corridor
The Assam government has asked the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) in the state’s Golaghat district to demolish its controversial boundary wall to allow the free passage of wild elephants.
“Demolish the entire boundary wall constructed in the newly acquired 67 bigha of land for proposed extension of NRL Township coming in the way of elephant corridor falling within the No Development Zone,” wrote the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Golaghat Division in a letter to the Chief General Manager (CGM) of NRL on February 8, 2019. The letter has been accessed by Down to Earth.
The DFO also directed that the 67 bighas of land should be kept free from any barriers by NRL for facilitating the movement of elephants
The DFO further wrote that the eco-restoration of the area as per the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on August 24, 2016 and August 3, 2018, must be carried out. "Proper compensation should also be given as per the NGT’s order," the letter read.
The letter from the DFO’s office to the CGM came in response to a letter written to it by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Assam, on February 2, 2019.
“It is found that the directions of the NGT were not fully complied with by the NRL in terms of the demolition of the entire boundary wall constructed in the proposed new Township and other directions," the PCCF wrote.
In view of the above, the DFO was to take immediate steps without any further delay to demolish the entire wall, restore the ecology and pay appropriate compensation as directed, the PCCF wrote.
NRL had built the wall in 2011, for its proposed new township. The township also boasts of a golf course among other things. But the wall lies in the path of an elephant corridor. In May 2015, a male elephant died of haemorrhage after bashing its head against the wall in an effort to break it. Videos have also captured elephant herds trying to frantically make sense of how to go past the barrier before dejectedly turning back.
The wall also lies in the NDZ. There is thus an overlapping of land between the lands of the Deopahar Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF) and and the proposed NRL Township.
Right To Information (RTI) activist Rohit Choudhury had first filed a petition in the NGT about the wall in August 2015.
“As regards the wall with barbed wire fencing which comes in the way of Elephant Corridor, the same should be demolished. The area, where the wall has come up and the proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar PRF. It also falls within the No-Development Zone notification, issued by the MoEF in 1996," the NGT had ordered in its August 24, 2016 judgment on the case.
Thereby, it said, any non-forest activity thereon would be in violation of the decision of the Apex Court in the TN Godavarman case (1996). Thus, the wall should be demolished within a period of one month and the proposed township should not come up in the present location, ruled the NGT.
The NGT had also said that the proposed township was to be moved to some other location, the NRL had to pay a sum of Rs 25 lakh to the Assam Forest Department for restoration of the area, make compensatory afforestation and the Deopahar PRF was to be notified as soon as possible into a Reserve Forest.
On January 19, 2019, the state government notified Deopahar as a reserve forest under Section 17 of the Assam Forest Regulation 1891.
In response to the NGT’s observations, the NRL had filed a review application stating that its township had been cleared by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority and there was no need to demolish the entire wall as it was not a part of the Deopahar Reserve Forest.
However, on August 9, 2018, the NGT said, "We are of the view that in view of categorical finding already recorded by the Tribunal (in its 2016 judgment) that the area where the wall came up and the area where proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar Reserve Forest, rehearing on merits is not permissible…Accordingly, we do not find any ground for review of order dated 24.08.2016".
The NRL then took the case to the Supreme Court. On January 18, 2019, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered NRL to demolish whatever was left of the controversial wall.
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