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NGT red flags football ground, building activity inside Periyar Tiger Reserve

The Hawk
September24/ 2022

New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Centre and Kerala government to file a compliance report within six months on the reported construction of a mega car parking facility and a football ground inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve allegedly without sanctions. 

The southern bench of NGT comprising Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Satyagopal Korlapati was dealing with two similar applications filed by different persons alleging violation of provisions of the Forest Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, and other allied Acts dealing with the National Tiger Conservation project.

After the submissions, the tribunal asked the Centre to respond as to whether the repair and formation of the football ground can be treated as a forest right under Section 3 (2) of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and to reply on its impact on the wildlife.

The tribunal also 'deprecated the attitude' of the applicant for not mentioning the entire facts in the application, including the existence of a tribal settlement and the vacant area, as seen from Google image etc.

The Chief Secretary of the state was also directed to produce all the relevant documents, including from the Vigilance Department on the matter.

From the vigilance report, it was revealed that as per the Conservator of Forest, (I&E), Kottayam, all the works related to the construction of the football ground were done violating the existing forest and wildlife legislations, the applicant had argued.

The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary covering an area of 925 sq km in Idukki district was declared as Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in 1978.

Kerala obtained approval from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for tiger conservation plan as per an order dated March 21, 2013, for the purpose of conservation of tigers in the reserve and for other purposes.

While approving the Tiger Conservation Plan, NTCA had clearly stated that the project shall not overrule the existing laws in the country, especially the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The plea alleged that in the guise of the sanction order, the state Department of Tourism wanted to develop the area and make certain constructions in the tiger reserve, and constructed a mega car parking facility at Anavachal.

It further pointed at another activity, wherein a football ground was being developed near the Vanchivayal tribal settlement area under Vallakkadavu range inside the core area of Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), a crucial zone of the forest where tigers are sited frequently.

The forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe namely Urali community of Vanchivayal tribal colony is located in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve, and they are included in the buffer area as per a 2011 notification of the state government.

The tribal representative denied the allegations that the authorities were taking steps to convert the core area located in Periyar Tiger Reserve as a playground. The open ground is not a part of the core area of Periyar Tiger Reserve, he said.

The tribal colony is inhabited by 76 tribal families since 1940 and located inside the forests and around 3.5 km away from the nearby public road. Most of the families of the tribal colony earn their livelihood through organic agriculture, particularly the cultivation of pepper.

Till two decades ago, they had been living in complete drudgery and penury and suffered heavily at the hands of middlemen till the Periyar Tiger Reserve management intervened with the constitution of a tribal eco-development committee, as per the locals.

On the other hand, the petitioner argued that in both the cases the Google image produced along with the documents will go to show that they have enlarged the area for the purpose of expanding, though claimed to be an existing playground to a larger extent and a football tournament was also conducted which is not a permissible activity even assuming that the tribal community has got any right under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

It also produced additional documents to establish that heavy machinery was used for the purpose of removal of mud, and the nature of publicity made for conducting the football tournament, and the presence of people at the time of the tournament.

The state government argued that it is part of the buffer zone of Vanchivayal tribal settlement colony situated within the Periyar Tiger Reserve area and it is not within the core area and this area is being used as a common place for gathering for festivals, marriages etc.

The state authorities said that the said notification of buffer area states that to promote the co-existence between wildlife and humans with due recognition to livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights of local people, the area of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary kept out of the critical tiger habitat is now declared as buffer area to the critical tiger habitat.

During the 2018-19 floods, a huge sand deposit was made in that area, and even in 2017, Gram Sabha of the tribal settlement community had resolved to repair the playground and that was forwarded to the Eco Development Committee and with the funds available with the committee, repair works were undertaken.

No additional area has been added and no trees were cut for these purposes. Any irregularities committed therein is being inquired into by the government and appropriate action will be taken against the officials, if there are any serious irregularities against the provisions committed by the officials.

The green court observed that though representations were made, no action was taken is the complaint made by the applicant in both the cases.