Maharashtra Forest department officials brace for action against illegal ashram
Authorities expect retaliation by followers after SC orders govt to act against Balyogi Sadanand Maharaj ashram at Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
While the Supreme Court has asked the Forest Department to take action against the illegal ashram at Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Vasai as it has severely violated norms, its officials have started preparing a strategy for the drive. Sources from the department told mid-day that carrying out demolition will not be an easy task, given the influence the ashram has. It is also feared that if the action is initiated, supporters of the ashram might burn down the forest.
Politicians 'visit' ashram
FD sources told mid-day that devotees of the Balyogi Sadanand Maharaj Ashram include powerful people from the Vasai-Virar belt and Mumbai metropolitan region. The maharaj has thousands of followers in the adjoining villages close to Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary and heavyweight politicians, too, visit ashram.
Balyogi Sadanand Maharaj
"The maharaj has followers in all political parties and that is the reason why there has not been any action against the ashram despite so many violations. The Supreme Court might have instructed the authorities to demolish the illegal structure but it is not going to be an easy task. There will be a law and order situation for sure, but if we really want to protect the forest, then the FD and police along with all the proper force should take strict action and send a strong message that no one is above the law," said a social worker from the area.
Speaking to mid-day, Chief Conservator of Forest and SGNP Director Anwar Ahmed said, "The orders of the Supreme Court will be followed and we are preparing a plan of action which will be submitted to the state government, as it will involve coordination between multiple agencies." Sources from the department said that there will be lot of political pressure, and this has been one of the reasons for the delay in action against it.
During mahashivratri thousands of visitors visit the century old temple at Tungareshwar and there are many who visit the ashram too. The issue exists since 2004 and environmentalist Debi Goenka, who is also the head of Conservation Action Trust, had filed an application in the Centrally Empowered Committee demanding action against the ashram, as it allegedly encroached on forest land.
There were also allegations that people associated with the ashram had illegally widened a road going towards it through a forest patch. In 2019, Goenka filed an application alleging destruction of flora and fauna in the sanctuary and hence the recommendations of the CEC should be implemented. The CEC recommendations state that the ashram has allegedly violated provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Conservation Act and so it must be removed.
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