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Ex-minister, DFO must pay for tree-felling in Corbett: SC

Published:

NEW DELHI:

Supreme Court

on Wednesday severely indicted former

Uttarakhand forest

minister Harak Singh Rawat and divisional forest officer (DFO) Kishan Chand for illegal felling of thousands of trees in Pakhrau area inside Corbett tiger reserve and asked the state to restore the forest to its original state and recover the

restoration cost

from the culprits.

A bench of Justices Bhushan R Gavai, P K Mishra and Sandeep Mehta minced no words in criticising the former minister and the DFO. “In blatant disregard of the law and for commercial purposes, the then forest minister and DFO Kishan Chand indulged in illicit felling of trees on a mass scale to construct buildings on pretext of

promotion of tourism

,” the bench said.
“This is a classic case that shows how politicians and bureaucrats have thrown the public trust doctrine into the dustbin,” it added.
Amazed at minister, DFO audacity in ignoring statutory provisions: SC

While hearing the case of illegal tree-felling in Corbett, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a report in TOI on October 27, 2021, threw light on the brazen breach of law and Uttarakhand HC took suo motu cognisance of the report to order a CBI probe.
“This is a classic case that shows how politicians and bureaucrats have thrown the public trust doctrine into the dustbin,” the bench said. SC added that “it was clear beyond doubt” that the two (the then Uttarakhand forest minister Harak Singh Rawat and DFO Kishan Chand) considered themselves above the law.

The bench narrated how the DFO, accused of several similar irregularities in earlier postings, was shielded by the then minister, who was instrumental in posting him to different places by overruling the forest secretary’s recommendation for his suspension due to prior irregularities. The order came on a petition claiming destruction of the tiger habitat and decline in tiger density due to illegal construction in the Pakhro Tiger Safari as well as illicit felling of thousands of trees.
Writing a 159-page judgment elaborating on past rulings on sustainable development, Justice Gavai said, “This is a case that shows how a nexus between a politician and a forest officer has resulted in heavy damage to the environment for some political and commercial gain. We are amazed at the audacity of the then forest minister and DFO Kishan Chand in giving a total go-by to the statutory provisions.”
The bench ordered CBI to submit a status report on its investigation into

illegal felling of trees

in Corbett tiger reserve to the SC within three months. It said there must be others who assisted the minister and DFO in illegal felling of trees and asked the state to take disciplinary action against those persons in addition to the ongoing CBI probe.
Though it did not interfere with the ‘tiger safari’ that has already come up at Pakhrau, the bench appointed an expert committee to recommend measures for restoration of the forest to its original state prior to the damage caused. The committee will assess the environmental damage caused to Corbett tiger reserve and quantify the cost of restoration. It asked the state to identify persons/officials responsible for the damage and “recover the cost so quantified from those found responsible and utilise it only for the purpose of environmental restoration”. The bench decided to keep monitoring the CBI probe.

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