The National Green Tribunal has said that it was wrongly assumed in a report that resorts within one-km radius of the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand were legal and formed a panel of "higher-level officials" to take remedial action.
The NGT was hearing the matter regarding the illegal functioning of hotels, resorts, pubs, clubs and ashrams and other commercial activities in the Chilla Range of Rajaji National Park.
A bench of Chairperson Justice A K Goel noted that in October last year, the tribunal had directed remedial action against violations by 19 resorts along with recovery of compensation for restoration of the environment, following which reports were filed by the Director of Rajaji National Park and the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board (UKPCB) earlier this month.
The bench also comprising judicial members Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi and expert member Afroz Ahmad noted that according to the report, action was taken against illegally operating resorts, but six resorts were outside the boundary of the tiger reserve.
These were Van Tarang, Mahadev Pani Resort, Ashram Mahadev Pani Resort, Forest Resort/Vindhyavasi Cottage, Maai ka Ashram, the Nature Resort Bukandi (Heerakhal) and Suleen Jungle Lodge, Bukandi (Heerakhal), the bench noted.
"We are of the view that the report does not cover the issue fully and ignores the mandate of law and (that) constructions are prohibited or regulated not only within the forest but also outside within 1 km of boundary of the tiger reserve, which is also covered by the eco-sensitive zone (notification), the bench said.
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It is thus wrongly assumed that the resorts outside the boundary of the tiger reserve are legal even if they are within one km of the boundary of the tiger reserve, the bench said.
It said that there was no clarity on how the six resorts were held to be not violating the norms without considering the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) notification and demarcation.
To the extent the activities have been held legal, the matter needs to be revisited, the bench said, adding, in place of the earlier constituted panel, a committee of higher-level officers had to be formed.
The committee will now comprise ACS Environment, the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) wildlife, the Director of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, the integrated regional office, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Dehradun and the Director, Tiger Reserve, who will act as a nodal agency for coordination and compliance, the bench said.
It said a meeting of the committee had to be held within two weeks, while further remedial action had to be completed within three months.
The committee may also verify if there are any more illegal establishments in the tiger reserve in question or in the prohibited sensitive areas..., the bench said.
An action taken report of compliance status as on May 31 has to be filed by June 30, it said.
The green panel also noted that according to the UKPCB's report, notices were issued to six resorts and compensation was imposed on four resorts, three of which were ashrams under the category of non-commercial activity, while two resorts were not in operation.
It said the extent of established violations as shown in the report had to be given effect after following the due process of law.
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