CHENNAI: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench, which on Wednesday allowed the Kerala government to construct a mega car parking facility in the water spread area of Mullaiperiyar reservoir, said the nature of activities proposed do not amount to utilisation of forest land for non-forest purpose.
“When the chairperson of FAC (Forest Advisory Committee), who decides the forest clearance proposals, himself is a member of NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) which approved the TCP (Tiger Conservation Plan), we find it not necessary to again approach the MoEF&CC (environment ministry) 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 said.
The entire tourism activities, including establishment and development of facilities in the buffer zone of Tiger Reserve will be implemented only through the statutorily constituted Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundation.
“Therefore, there should not be any objection to carry out such tourism activities which form part of the TCP approved by NTCA,” the bench said and added that minimum tourist facilities in the buffer zone, that too located in well-developed town limits, cannot be contested. The bench also observed that there were no documents submitted before it to conclude that the proposed construction site was statutory, notified and attracted wetland conservation rules.
“Taking a holistic approach and looking at a larger objective of conservation of forest, undertaking of ecotourism activities without felling a single tree should not considered as diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose. Therefore, we hold that the proposed tourism activities in question are in conformity with the strategy of the National Wildlife Action Plan,” the bench said.
The previous two judicial members, Chokkalingam and P Jyothimani, had taken a hard stand against Kerala government, disallowing all construction activities.
MoEF&CC filed two conflicting reports before the NGT. Initially, an affidavit was filed by Avinash M Kanfade, Conservator of Forests (CF), saying proposed constructions were illegal.
“In the instant case, the activities undertaken by Deputy Director, Project Tiger, Periyar Tiger Reserve and Department of tourism of Kerala are in violation of the law,” Kanfade had said. However, later, the secretary of the ministry filed another affidavit fully concurring with the activities.
TN to move Supreme Court
Sources said the Tamil Nadu government is contemplating to challenge the verdict in Supreme Court. When contacted, Advocate General Vijay Narayan and Additional Advocate General G Manishankar, who have been appearing before the tribunal for the past one year, said they haven’t read the full order and refused to pass comments.
Tamil Nadu’s stand
1. State claims that the proposed car park site falls within the water spread area of Mullaiperiyar reservoir, which is under its
2. TN holds 999-year lease on Mullaiperiyar dam and its watershed area in virtue of a lease indenture entered into between the Maharaja of Travancore Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma and the British Secretary of State of India for Periyar irrigation works on October 29, 1886
3. State has filed a case against the project in Supreme Court, which is pending
1. Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP), which was approved by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), is a statutory document under section 38(V) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and no clearance for activities is required under the Forest (Conservation) Act
2. Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundation, which is executing the project, says the existing car park is 5 km inside the reserve and previous cafeteria was 7 km inside the reserve and we propose to bring it to the edge of the forest, which is being objected.
3. Project is part of conservation