Uttarakhand’s former Director General of Police BS Sidhu’s desire to have a house in the forest has not gone down well with the National Green Tribunal which held him guilty of illegally purchasing land in the reserve forest area near Dehradun Mussoorie highway and asked him to cough up Rs 46.14 lakh for felling 25 saal trees.
“…once any provision of law is violated, the offence stands completed and the person concerned becomes liable for the consequences as per the said law. Having come to know through various sources including Revenue Department, visiting the site and valuation of Saal trees in the registered sale deed leaves no room of doubt that B.S. Sidhu had for the purpose of fulfilling his desire, to construct a house in the forest is liable for purchasing the forest reserve area and felling of trees. Another significant fact of the present case is that as per the statement of B.S. Sidhu himself, he had been duped by the seller by receiving the amount of consideration but even then he did not file any report (FIR) or took any action against him till date,” said a bench of Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore and Dr. Satyawan Singh Garbyal (expert member) on Monday.
On the amount of compensation, the bench ordered, “It has been established, as given in the earlier part of the judgment, that 25 Saal trees were felled illegally at the instance of B.S. Sidhu, in the reserve forest land which was illegally purchased by him. Considering the fact that, at the relevant time, he was holding the post of Director General of Police in the State of Uttarakhand, we consider it just and proper to direct him to pay 10 times of value of tree calculated at the schedule rate that is Rs. 1,84,752 x 10 = Rs. 18,47,520 and twice the value of NPA of forest land that is Rs. 13,83,720 x 2 = Rs. 27,64,440. Both the amounts come to Rs. 46,14,960.”
“Mr. B.S. Sidhu, the then DGP Government of Uttarakhand had wished to have a house in Forest. In furtherance of such desire he had selected the instant site as being ideal, while he used to pass by through the said area,” remarked the bench.
The amount of damages will be paid to the District Forest Officer within one month from today.
“This money would be used by the District Forest Officer in the plantation of trees of suitable species in the area in question and non-forest land elsewhere in the Division. For this purpose, a scheme will be prepared and it will be acted upon as per laid down procedure of the Government,” said the tribunal.
The bench was hearing two applications—one moved by the NGT Bar Association complaining of illegal land purchase by Sidhu and felling of trees and the other moved by Sidhu himself complaining about forest officers not doing their duty in checking illegal felling of trees.
The application by the Bar Association averred that as per media reports, Sidhu, posted as DG in the Government of Uttarakhand, had got a fraudulent sale deed executed from one Nathu Ram and purchased the land which was declared as a reserved forest in Mussoorie Forest Division. The mutation of the land was then got entered in his own name. The sale deed was executed in the year 2012. Twenty-five saal trees were felled.
During investigation into the illegal felling of trees, it was found that there was no person with the name of Nathu Ram and that Sidhu had got 9 bighas of land registered in his name by purchasing the same for about Rs 1.5 crores when the market value of the land is estimated to be Rs 20 crores.
Pursuant to filing of application by the NGT Bar Association, Sidhu also moved the NGT regarding violation of the enactment specified in the Schedule, particularly the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, by land mafias and builders in connivance with forest officials who had been posted in Mussoorie Forest Division of district Dehradun.
He averred that the forest officials who are the guardians of the forest have failed to discharge their duties in preventing illegal felling of trees and have instead colluded with land mafias and builders resulting in large-scale felling of trees in the Mussoorie Forest Division of district Dehradun and complained about the rampant felling of saal trees.
Dismissing Sidhu’s plea, the tribunal said, “The respondent Forest Officers had done their duties in accordance with law. No illegal duty or irregular can be said to have been done by them. Moreover, in the reports filed by the higher authorities of the Forest Department, it has been clearly mentioned that the allegation made against the forest officials is only a step in retaliation because of the report, investigation, proceedings etc. which had been taken up against B.S. Sidhu. Therefore, on the ground of delay of a long period without any just explanation and even on merits, we hold that we are not inclined to accept the relief sought against the respondent forest officers. Accordingly, the Original Application filed by B.S. Sidhu deserves to be rejected.”
It is to be noted that on the question of compensation for the purpose of reforestation and restoration of environment and ecology, the bench noted that “the land in question measuring 3.86 acre is part of the Reserve Forest vide notification issued under section 4 of the Forest Act 1927 dated 01.05.1970…The value of the said Saal trees, 25 in number, according to the schedule rate applicable in the State of Uttarakhand is Rs. 1,84,752”.
The tribunal took on record affidavit by Chetan Agrawal, a forest and environmental analyst, to arrive at the compensation amount.