Sunday, December 3, 2023

Gauhati High Court directs authorities to protect Dibru Saikhowa national park

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The Gauhati High Court has directed the authorities concerned to take every possible step permissible under the law for the protection of the Eco-Sensitive area of the Dibru-Saikhowa National park.

The Division Bench of Justice Suman Shyam and Justice Susmita Phukan Khaund closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) alleging environmental disturbance being caused in the Eco-Sensitive Zone around the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in the district of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, Assam due to commercial activities carried out therein.

According to the petitioners, the private respondents are illegally running a resort and a boat house within the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and biosphere reserve forest thus causing threat to the flora and fauna.

Taking note of the grievance expressed in the PIL and the sensitivity of the issue flagged therein, the Court had issued notice upon the respondents. The Deputy Commissioner, Tinsukia filed an affidavit dated 19/01/2023 responding to the allegations made in the petition.

The Affidavit states that :-

“5. That regarding paragraph 7 of the PIL the deponent begs to state that it has been reported by the Divisional Forest Officer, Tinsukia Wildlife Division that in conformity with Para No. 3 Sub-Para (3), Clause (e) Sub-Clause (ii) of the Notification dated 28/01/2020, it is stated that “until the Zonal master Plan is approved, development for tourism and expansion of existing tourism activities shall be permitted by the concerned regulatory authorities based on the actual site specific scrutiny and recommendation of the Monitoring committee and no new hotel, resort or commercial establishment construction shall be permitted within Eco-sensitive Zone area”. The respondent nos. 14,15 and 16 have been running the tourism activities prior to enforcement of the said notification dated 28/01/2020 and same comes under the Regulated Activities as detailed in the Notification dated 28/01/2020. No permanent structures are allowed to construct within the protected area of the National Park as well as close proximity of the boundary of the Eco-Sensitive zone. Apart from that, no private person is allowed to enter into the National Park without valid permit and for that the appropriate authority is issuing permit to enter into the National Park under Rule-46, Section 28 of Assam Wildlife (Protection) Rule, 1997. It is also to be mentioned herein that, Governor of Assam vide letter No. TWT72/2021/67 dated 25/08/2021 is pleased to settle the Guijan Erasuti Ferry Service in favour of the respondent no. 16 under the provisions of Rule 4(1) of Control and Management of Ferries Rules, 1968 (as amended) and the said Guijan-Erasuti Ferry Service comes under the periphery of Eco-Sensitive zone. Therefore, plying of ferry services is also a part of commercial activities and same cannot be restricted in view of aforesaid valid settlement order as mentioned.”.

Earlier, the Divisional Forest Officer of the Tinsukia Wildlife Division, had also filed an affidavit clarifying the stand of the department in the matter, which states that Resort and Boat House whose establishment and operation are alleged as in violation of the notification dated 28/01/2020 are running prior to the coming into force of the notification and well within the ambit and scope of the regulated activities as per the notification of 2020. It is mentioned that the operation of the resort has been suspended by the District Magistrate, Tinsukia vide order dated 26/01/2022. As regards the aforesaid Boat House an inquiry was also undertaken by the deponent and wherein it was found that the Boat House has valid registration under Inland Steam Vessels (Amendment) Act, 1951 issued by the department of Inland Water Transport, Government of Assam on 23/11/2015.

From the affidavit filed by the official respondents, the Court noted that the circumstances under which the Resort and Boat House was initially allowed to function has become apparent. However, it is not in dispute that operation of the Resort has since been suspended. The Court further noted that an enquiry had been conducted as to the circumstances under which Boat House was allowed to operate. From the submission made at the bar, the High Court found that a Committee has also been constituted on 26/11/2021 for protection of the ecology in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Committee is looking into all aspects of the matter.

There can be no doubt or dispute of the fact that the eco-sensitive zone in the DibruSaikhowa National Park is required to be protected. However, after going through the pleadings available on record, it appears that the concerned District Administration has already taken cognizance of the matter and necessary measures for protection of the National Park is already in place, the Court held.

The Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that in view of the stand taken by the authorities assuring that no commercial activities would be undertaken in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park threatening the ecology of the area, nothing survives for decision in this PIL.

“Therefore, without expressing any further opinion in the matter, we close the PIL by directing the concerned authorities to take every possible step, as may be permissible under the law, for protection of the Eco-Sensitive area of the Dibru-Saikhowa National park. If the petitioners continue to remain aggrieved even thereafter, they would be at liberty to approach this Court once again by filing appropriate petition,” the order reads.

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