The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday told the Forest Department that it may straightaway proceed to remove the encroachments in "forest alike" areas of Vansadrushya in the Mahabaleshwar and Panchg Regions of Maharashtra.
An NGT bench headed by its Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel asked the concerned department to file an action-taken report and listed the matter for March 31, 2021.
After taking note of a report filed by Chief Conservator of Forests, Kolhapur, the tribunal said that it was clear that forest-like areas had been identified and there were encroachments in violation of the law.
The NGT also said that the verification process should be completed positively by January 31, 2021.
"Thereafter, in respect of such area as is found to encroach in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Collector, Satara and the Forest Department may straightaway proceed to remove the encroachments for which no approval of The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) will be required, even if such area is part of the ESZ. Area being in ESZ does not mean that law is not to be enforced there," the tribunal said.
The tribunal was hearing a petition raising issues of non-forest development activities in the 'forest alike areas' called 'Vansadrushya' in Mahabaleshwar and Panchg Region in Maharashtra, violated the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, as defined in the Supreme Court judgments.
The applicant, Bombay Environment Action Group, sought the demolition of structures illegally constructed in the above areas without following the procedure prescribed under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
According to the applicant, the Zonal Master Plan/Regional Plan prepared for Municipal Council areas of Mahabaleshwar and Panchg under section 15(1) of the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, 1966 (MRTP Act) specifies the 'Forest Alike' areas. The area was declared an "Eco-Sensitive Zone" as per a notification dated January 17, 2001. The Tribunal on March 13, 2019, passed various directions for remedial action.
"It was observed that the High-powered Committee under the MRTP Act could not take any decision in violation of the Supreme Court judgment. In respect to such identified encroachments, no further procedure remains to be followed, except the verification as proposed for which three months' time should be enough," the NGT said.
It added, "The schedule proposed assumes that nothing has been done so far and action is to start only now. Since all relevant data is available, the timeline needs to be shortened. The authorities should not think of unending exercise in violation of declared law of the land. The plan has to be now for prompt action as per law."
( With inputs from ANI )
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