Uttarakhand forest dept seeks permission to 'temporarily use' Rajaji National Park for Mahakumbh 2021
Officials privy to the developments told TNIE that less than 0.5-hectare land is proposed to be taken from Rajaji National Park which already has a small temple and other structures.
DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand state forest department has sought permission from Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change to use 778 hectares of forest land temporarily for non-forest activities in upcoming Mahakumbh 2021 from September 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021.
The letter seeking permission dated April 20, 2020, by Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttarakhand (APCCF) and nodal officer of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) stated, "The proposal is about temporary usage of about 778 hectares of land in Rajaji National Park and other forest divisions for upcoming Mahakumbh from September 1, 2020, to May 31, 2020, for mine months. In this time period, administrative control of the area will be under state forest department only."
The letter, written to state government officials which will be further forwarded to Centre, also includes a mitigation plan after the religious event is over.
The letter by Sharma further requests to grant permission as an exception starting that the Mahakumbh is an important festival of Hindu traditions.
The lawmakers and activists said that if the permission is granted it will violate Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Ritwick Dutta, environment lawyer and founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), " According to Section 35 of the Wildlife (Protection) no such activity can be conducted in any protected forest area."
Officials privy to the developments related to the matter told The New Indian Express on the condition of anonymity that less than 0.5-hectare land is proposed to be taken from Rajaji National Park which already has a small temple and other structures. The rest is proposed to be taken for usage from Haridwar, Dehradun and Narendra Nagar forest divisions which fall outside the national park limits.
Commenting on the issue, DJK Sharma said, "This is the first-ever instance when any state government has sought such permission. These lands have been used traditionally for Kumbh Mela but this time we sought permission given the new guidelines issued last year."
In October last year, a letter by the union ministry of forest, environment and climate change said that the forest land can be used 'temporarily' by any person, firm or organization except 'Protected Area.
Later, in January 2020, the MoEF&CC stated that while permitting temporary use of forest land, it shall be ensured that the time period for temporary use of forest land does not exceed two weeks.
However, in case of the upcoming Mahakumbh, the permission sought is for 9-months which is termed as a violation by law experts and activists if permission is granted.
The Mahakumbh organized every 12-years is expected to witness a congregation of over 10 crore people from January 2021 to March 2021.