Apex Court saves Nainital's green lung

Oct 03, 2018, 08:36 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

SC stays illegal construction to develop 50 ultra-modern villas in verdant Kumaon

Apex Court saves Nainital's green lung
Some constructions have already taken place near the Jilling Estate

The Supreme Court has ordered status quo to be maintained in the deemed forest area around Jilling Estate, Nainital, which was allegedly being destroyed for building a resort and villa township. The case pertains to a project by Devanya Resorts Pvt. Ltd to construct over 50 ultra-modern villas and cottages, a heated swimming pool, a hospitality zone and a helipad in the forests of Kumaon at 6000 ft.

Jilling Estate is popular among wildlife enthusiasts, who have documented the presence of leopards and the endangered cheer and Koklass pheasants. Oak trees were also allegedly destroyed to carry out road work in 2017. The intervention came in a petition filed by Delhi-based Birendra Singh, an estate-owner in the affected area, after the NGT set aside his plea.

On July 24, a bench headed by NGT Chairman A K Goel summarily disposed of the matter, Singh claimed, without considering the NGT court commissioner's recommendations that all project-related activity, including illegal construction and felling of trees, be stopped for the demarcation of forest areas and directions be issued to the Uttarakhand government to finalise the criteria for identification of forests, which has still not been done despite the draft criteria being prepared in 2014.

Singh had first moved the NGT on December 6, 2017, after noticing construction activity. He said the developer started promoting the upcoming project on his website despite having no approvals and environmental clearance. NGT issued notices to all concerned parties, but the Forest Department in its reply denied any wrongdoing, while stating construction was stopped due to the matter pending before NGT.

On January 16, the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board, in an affidavit, stated that no consent has been issued for the project. On May 31, the NGT appointed ex-NGT member Bikram Singh Sajwan Court Commissioner to visit the spot. In his report submitted on July 9, Sajwan said massive steel structures and roads were constructed at the site. Despite this, the NGT set aside Singh's plea, after which he moved the SC.

Sr Advocate Gopal Subramaniam, assisted by Vipin Nair and P B Suresh, represented Singh. "Environmental degradation is on the rise, be it Kerala or Nainital. Our plea in the SC is that a zero tolerance policy should be adopted by environment courts. The SC's interim order is well-received, as it ensures ongoing destruction has been stopped," said Nair.

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