CHENNAI: The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday allowed Kerala to go ahead with various construction projects in the Periyar Tiger Reserve abutting Mullaperiyar dam reservoir area.
Tamil Nadu was opposing the projects claiming that the project site actually falls under the water spread area of the dam which is owned and operated by it.
The tribunal said it would not go into the issue of ownership of the land on which the constructions are planned. The main reasoning cited by the tribunal was that National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has given clearance to the tourism projects.
The bench, comprising, Justice MS Nambiar and expert member PS Rao, contended that the comprehensive guidelines issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which are scrutinised and approved by the Supreme Court, and the fact that the tourism activities listed in Chapter 23 of the Tiger Conservation Plan has been approved by the competent authority.
"We hold that such activities do not amount to diversion of forest land and utilisation of forest land for non-forest purpose attracting the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980."
The NTCA is a statutory body constituted under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 under the chairmanship of Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the secretary and Director General of Forest, MoEF&CC. When they examined the draft management plan and approved the TCP, including the development of tourism activities, we cannot agree with the argument put forth by the applicants that such activities attract the provisions of the Forest Act and therefore necessary clearance has to be obtained, the order reads.
The bench further noted, "If the constitution of NTCA vis-a-vis Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) which recommends Forest Clearance cases for the diversion of forest lands is examined, it is clear that the constitution and representation of official and non-official members are wider than the FAC. When the chairperson of the FAC who decides the forest clearance proposals, himself is a member of the NTCA which approved the TCP, we find it not necessary to again approach the MoEF&CC with the proposal to obtain clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 as the ecotourism activities involving the local communities are ancillary to the conservation, development and management of forests and wildlife," the order says.
However, the tribunal didn't take into consideration MoEF&CC reply saying that TCP was approved by NTCA in 2013, in which one of the conditions stipulated was that at no stage of implementation of the approved plan, the provisions of the FC Act and other acts will be overruled or not followed.
“Those activities prescribed in the approved TCP which are not ancillary to conservation, development and management of forests and wildlife will require clearance under FC Act. In the instant case, the activities undertaken by Deputy Director, Project Tiger, Periyar Tiger Reserve and Department of tourism of Kerala are in violations of the law," MoEF&CC reply says.
Sources in the Tamil Nadu government told the New Indian Express that the state will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.