Through the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), appointed by the Supreme Court in 2009, stated in its report that the construction done by the Sadanand Maharaj Ashram inside Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) in Vasai after 2005 should be cleared, the forest department (FD) has taken no action till date.
The alleged widening of the road being carried out by the ashram officials in 2012. File pic
Moreover, members of the trust managing the ashram have approached the National Board of Wildlife (NBW) claiming that the ashram is not a part of the TWS, and so it should not be subjected to any action from the FD. Speaking to mid-day, an FD official said, “A few months ago, the trust approached the NBW and asked its officials to derecognise the ashram and its property as part of the TWS.”
It has been learnt that the ashram members are involved in alleged construction of a boundary wall and widening of the kuccha (mud) road. A few years ago, the trust officials were accused of keeping peacocks on the ashram premises. And when an FD team visited the ashram to verify the allegations, its members were allegedly manhandled.
Another FD official said, “Every time we decided to initiate a demolition drive against them (ashram) in the past, we received calls from politicos exactly a day before asking us to drop the idea. The ashram has powerful connections across all parties, not just in the state but at the centre as well. They use their political clout to suppress us.”
Tungareshwar was notified as a wildlife Sanctuary in 2005 following which it became illegal to construct any structure inside the sanctuary. However, the ashram continued with the construction of the boundary wall and widened the roads by chopping trees. Though the FD issued evection notices to the ashram trust, its officials took none seriously.
'Older than TWS'
The FD official added, “In 2009, when the CEC team visited the ashram, its officials asserted that it existed even before Tungareshwar became a wildlife sanctuary.
They claimed that the ashram was over a century-old. And though the FD agreed to their claims, the construction work carried out was after 2005, which makes it illegal. Ashram officials had even approached the MoEF, seeking permission to carry out construction which was denied.”
FD officials are of the opinion that in order to protect the wildlife and the forest in the TWS, it is crucial to take action against the ashram as many a time devotees visiting the ashram disturb the wildlife. Some even refuse to pay the FD charges that are supposed to be paid by visitors. Despite repeated attempts, none of the officials from the ashram were available for comment.