CHENNAI: The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday reserved the order in the controversial Megamalai forest road widening case in Theni district even when activists and the State authorities are engaged in a full-blown war over the issue. The final arguments in the case have concluded.
Activists claim that over 150 trees were felled in the reserve forest, flouting all norms, but the Forest Department and local district administration say the 35-km road, which is being widened, is not part of the reserve forest or the Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary and only 122 non-schedule trees were cut after getting necessary permissions.
Shocker came in November 25, 2009, when the Tamil Nadu government issued the Megamalai reserve forest gazette notification in which nothing was mentioned about this entire 35-km road stretch. A local environmentalist alleged that it was a ploy to omit the area from the notification to help private estate owners. It’s part of indigenous elephant corridor and increase in human movement will lead to a man-animal conflict, besides putting enormous pressure on biodiversity.
However, the State government and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) have completely dismissed the allegations. An affidavit, submitted before the NGT bench by P Sornappan, Wildlife Warden, Megamalai Wildlife Division, a copy of which is available with the Express, says that as per revenue records, the road is noted as a private patta road, which is why there is no mention in the gazette notification. The road starts from Thenpalani and crosses through the Megamalai reserve forest. From the available records maintained in the Forest Department and also as per revenue records, the road is neither part of reserve forest nor part of wildlife sanctuary. The government transferred the land to an extent of 8.015 hectares classified as government poromboke-Pathal to the Highways Department for improvement of the existing road, the affidavit says.
The forest officials also claim that the Highways Department, which is the project proponent in this re-laying of road and also from Chinamanur to Megamalai, decided to fell 122 non-schedule trees from the poromboke land and the Collector, who is the chairman of the district committee constituted under the hill areas preservation of trees, granted permission since none of the trees was grown in the forest area and also all the trees are non-schedule trees.
Regarding the petitioner M Saravanan’s averment that the Union Environment Ministry’s permission was needed to cut the trees, the Forest Department said Section 7 (f) of the notification warrants environment clearance (EC) only in the case of expansion, but in the present case no expansion activity is involved. “The Highways Department has already the right of way between 14 and 22 metres and even the FMB sketch of the villages illustrates the same. The existing road is of two metres’ width and presently it is being widened to an extent of 5.5 metres which is well within the 14-22 metres existing right of way and as such there is no expansion as alleged by the applicant,” Sornappan said.