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Tear Down This Wall: NGT Refuses To Review Its 2016 Order To Demolish NRL Wall Erected In Elephant Corridor Near Kaziranga Nat’l Park

The wall in question segregates the township from the rest of the forest area and has claimed lives of 12 elephants as they moved along this corridor for food. It encroaches upon the Deopahar Proposed Reserve Forest as well as the No-Development Zone.

A controversial wall erected in the proposedin close proximity to the Kaziranga National Park, by public sector oil company Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) will have to be razed as the National Green Tribunal has refused to review the order of its demolition passed in the year 2016.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson AK Goel did not find any ground to review its order as requested by NRL which had, in the year 2011, erected the wall with barbed wire and razor edge fencing right in the middle of the ‘elephant corridor’ for expansion of its township which also boasted of a golf course.

“As regards the wall with barbed wire fencing which comes in the way of Elephant Corridor, the same should be demolished. The area, where the wall has come up and the proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar PRF. It also falls within the No-Development Zone notification, issued by the MoEF in 1996. Thereby, any non-forest activity thereon would be in violation of the decision of the Apex Court in the TN Godavarman case (1996). Thus, the wall should be demolished within a period of one month and the proposed township should not come up in the present location,” the NGT had ordered in its 2016 judgment in a case titled Rohit Choudhary vs UoI and Others.

Choudhary is an environment activist from Assam who has been constantly fighting for environmental conservation in the region.

He welcomed the NGT’s order dismissing NRL’s review petition saying, “I hope the government of Assam and NRL will now act immediately to demolish the entire wall and bring relief to the elephants and other wildlife in the area.”

It is to be noted that the wall in question segregated the township from the rest of the forest area and claimed lives of 12 elephants as they moved along this corridor for food.

The wall is encroaching upon the Deopahar Proposed Reserve Forest as well as the No Development Zone.

Deopahar is in close proximity to the Kaziranga National Park, which is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and is home to one-horned rhinoceros.

The NRL had moved the review application saying its township project had the clearance of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority and that the entire wall need not be demolished as the same is not the part of Deopahar Reserve Forest.

On notice of review application, the State of Assam took the stand that out of 9 hectares of land which was acquired by it, only 1 hectare was required and the remaining area could be returned to the refinery and the wall could be realigned.

It is to be noted that a part of the wall was demolished in March and the 1 hectare of land so freed was taken over by Revenue Department from NRL.

The government had said in an affidavit filed this year that the clearance of 1 hectare of the land “will facilitate free animal movements in the area as well as for declaration of Deopahar as Reserve Forest shortly. By taking out of this 1 hectares land from the originally acquired land of 9 hectares, the balance 8 hectare of land under the possession of NRL, is free from proposed Deopahar Reserve Forest area.”

The NGT, however, held, “We are of the view that in view of categorical finding already recorded by the Tribunal (in its 2016 judgement) that the area where the wall came up and the area where proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar Reserve Forest, rehearing on merits is not permissible…Accordingly, we do not find any ground for review of the order dated 24.08.2016”.

It is to be noted that Choudhary had moved NGT against illegal stone crushers, brick kilns, tea factories etc., in the No Development Zone (NDZ) that was demarcated by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) vide Notification dated 5th July 1996 around the Numaligarh refinery in Assam.

In 2015, he once again moved NGT over non-compliance of its order against polluting activities in the area.

It was then that he once again stressed on how trees were being felled for a golf course in the township and a wall has been raised illegally in the ‘elephant corridor’ as a boundary of the residential colony sans any environmental clearance.

He shared photographs and videos showing elephants struggling against the wall which had come up in their corridor. 12 pachyderms had died because of this wall.

The  NGT had in 2016 held that the “wall clearly falls within the ‘NDZ’” as there could not be any construction within 15 km radius of the refinery.

Here are the directions the NGT had passed in year 2016, which the NRL unsuccessfully sought review of:

  1. As regards the wall with barbed wire fencing which comes in the way of the elephant corridor, the same should be demolished. The area, where the wall has come up and the proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar ‘PRF’. It also falls within the No-Development Zone notification, issued by the ‘MoEF’ in 1996. Thereby, any non-forest activity thereon would be in violation of the decision of the Apex Court in the TN Godavarman case (1996). Thus, the wall should be demolished within a period of one month and the proposed township should not come up in the present location.
  2. Further, for causing environmental damage by the destruction of forest cover and flattening of the hill to build the golf course, NRL will pay environmental compensation of Rs. 25,00,000 to the Assam Forest Department, which is to be kept in a separate bank account for the restoration of the area and improving the environment adjoining the ‘NRL’ complex and to reduce man-animal conflict.
  3. NRL will also make compensatory afforestation of ten times the number of trees felled. The plant varieties, suitable to the area in consultation with biologists, may be planted.
  4. In keeping with the letter and spirit of the notification for ‘NDZ’, the Government of Assam and the ‘MoEF’ will ensure that no development activities whatsoever take place within a radius of 15 km of the ‘NRL’, which could lead to pollution and congestion, in compliance with the said notification dated 5th July 1996. In furtherance thereof, we direct that the judgment of this Tribunal in O.A. No. 38/2011 be strictly implemented, thereby the polluting activities of the stone crushers, brick kilns & others be immediately closed. We direct the Government of Assam to vigorously implement the directions of the Tribunal by having frequent meetings of the Task Force Committee and effective implementation of their decisions.
  5. The Government of Assam is directed to urgently take steps as per law to finally notify Deopahar ‘PRF’ into Reserved Forest under Section 17 of the Assam Forest Regulations 1891, to prevent further loss to the ecology of Deopahar, which is in close proximity to Kaziranga National Park (15-20 km) and is also used as an elephant corridor.

Read the Judgment and Order Here

 

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