Uttarakhand HC reserves judgment on CBI inquiry into Corbett tree felling

Uttarakhand high court on Friday reserved its judgment on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry in the case of illegal constructions and felling of 6,000 trees in Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR).

In October last year, the NGT, while taking suo motu cognisance of a media report on the illegal felling of over 6,000 trees in CTR (File Photo)

On August 21, the high court in its order had stated that on September 1, the next date of hearing in the case, it would decide whether to refer the case to the CBI.

Abhijay Negi, counsel of petitioner Anu Pant said the division bench of chief justice Vipin Sanghi and justice Alok Kumar Verma heard the matter and reserved the judgment.

The high court is hearing two cases, one filed by Dehradun-based Pant and another in which it had taken suo motu cognisance of the media reports over illegal constructions and felling of trees in Corbett on October 27, 2021.

“I apprised the court that despite five inquiries in the matter, no action has been taken against the senior officials of the forest department under whose very noses illegal constructions and felling of 6,000 trees took place in an area which has the highest concentration of the tigers in the world. I also informed the court that instead of taking action against the senior officials, many of them were promoted,” counsel Negi said.

Negi said the counsels representing the state government have sought more time, stating that the vigilance inquiry into the Corbett case was in its final stage and as such time should be given till the vigilance concludes its inquiry.

Uttarakhand Vigilance on Wednesday raided a college owned by former forest minister and Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat’s son Tushit Rawat in Dehradun in connection with the Corbett case.

HT had reported last month that Principal Accountant General (Audit) Uttarakhand’s report has found ‘gross financial irregularities’ worth over Rs.78 crore in which payment of over Rs.17 crore was made in CTR, Kalagarh Tiger Reserve (KTR) and Lansdowne Forest Divisions.

On two generators procured by the KTR district forest officer (DFO), the report stated that “one generator was installed at Doon Institute of Medical Science, Dehradun (a private institute run by the son of the then Forest Minister) and at Meerawati Filling Station, village Nepali Farm, Hindrawala, Rishikesh. The division had paid 15.40 lakh for procurement of the above generators”.

Negi said on January 6, 2023, the high court had also asked the chief secretary to submit all the inquiry reports in the case to the court and inform about the officials responsible for illegal constructions and felling of trees.

He added that the names of some senior officers and the then forest minister Harak Singh Rawat were not mentioned in the affidavit filed by the state government, despite his name figuring prominently in the report of the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee, which has been submitted to the apex court.

In March this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) constituted a committee that submitted its report on Monday naming Harak Singh Rawat and eight other officers for various violations in the illegal felling of trees and illegal constructions in CTR.

In October last year, the NGT, while taking suo motu cognisance of a media report on the illegal felling of over 6,000 trees in CTR had constituted a committee to identify the violators and recommend steps for the restoration of the environment there.

On October 27, 2021, the high court while taking suo motu cognisance of media reports, had directed the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MOEFCC), principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), Uttarakhand, chief wildlife warden Uttarakhand and CTR field director to inspect the Corbett reserve with regard to the allegations and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report and submit action taken report to the court.

The matter relates to a petition originally filed by Gaurav Bansal, Supreme Court advocate and wildlife activist. Bansal said that on a petition filed by him Delhi high court regarding illegal constructions, the felling of trees and the construction of approach roads in CTR, the court on August 23, 2021, had directed NTCA to look into the issues raised in the petition.

Following the court directions, NTCA constituted a committee on September 5, 2021, which inspected CTR between September 26 to September 30 and submitted its report on October 22, 2021.

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