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NGT disposes petition seeking directions to all states and territories to not requisite Forest officials and Forest Vehicles for upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election duties

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) disposed of Petition  filed seeking a direction to respondent no. 1 (Union of India)  to issue a direction to all States and Union Territories not to requisite Forest Officials and Forest Vehicles for upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election duties. 

The Petition filed by one Gaurav Kumar Bansal further seeks direction to implement the instruction letters dated 08.02.2023 and 07.06.2023 issued by the Election Commission of India exempting Territorial Staff of the Forest Department and Forest Vehicles for requisitioning in upcoming election duty.

Submission of the Counsel for the applicant is that respondents are issuing orders and letters to the Forest Department deploying the Forest Officials in election duty and also requisitioning the Forest Vehicles. 

He has submitted that Forest and Wildlife Departments of the State have the primary responsibility of enforcement of forest and wildlife related Acts and under the CAMPA Scheme, forestry activities are time bound scheduled activities which are to be run continuously throughout the year. It is further submitted that forest fires which are inevitable frequently occur and if not attended properly on account of shortage of manpower will result in destruction of precious natural resources. 

He has referred to orders issued by the Superintendent of Police, Bageshwar,  deploying certain forest employees and an order dated 06.01.2024 by the District Election Officer, Rudraprayag deploying certain forest officials and has submitted that these orders have been passed in contravention of the instructions by the Election Commission. 

He has referred to the instructions issued by the Election Commission in this regard exempting the forest vehicles and certain categories of forest officials.

Having heard the Counsel for the applicant and on the perusal of the record, the Principal Bench of Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Dr. A Senthil Vel noted that the circular of the Election Commission of India dated 08.02.2023 has been placed on record which exempts certain category of vehicles as under:-   

“4. Vehicles to be exempted: 

Vehicles of World Health Organisation, UNICEF and all the organisations of UN, All India Radio, Doordarshan, Forest Department (Wild life sanctuaries, National sanctuaries and National Games Park) will not be requisitioned for election duty. No vehicle, vessel or animal which is being lawfully used by a candidate or his agent for any purpose connected with the election of such candidate should be requisitioned (Section 160(1) proviso of R.P Act, 1951).”   

He has also placed reliance upon circular of the Election Commission of India dated 07.06.2023 which exempts certain category of officials/staff of the Forest Department as under:-  

“10. STAFF TO BE EXEMPTED: 

10.1 The Commission has exempted certain categories of personnel from being requisitioned for election duty in view of essential nature of duties/service discharged by them. They are as follows: 

(i) Senior officers of the Indian Forest Service  

(ii)to(iv)………..xxx……………..xxx……………xxx 

(v) Territorial Staff of Forest Department”   

The applicant has also placed on record the circular of the Central Empowered Committee dated 02.02.2024  requesting the Chief Sectaries of all States and Union Territories as under:- 

“It is therefore requested that the vehicles of Forest Department (Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Sanctuaries and National Games Park) shall not be requisitioned for election duty. Relevant directions may please be issued to all concerned.”  

The applicant has also relied upon the Communication dated 03.02.2024 sent by the Principal Secretary, Uttarakhand Government to all the District Magistrates stating as under:- 

“18. Every year, severe incidents of forest fire occur in the state during summer season (from 15th February to 30th June). All the officers/employees of the Forest Department are ready 24X7 for forest fire control/management. Keeping in view the Forest Fire Session-2024, the personnel posted at the field level of the Forest Department should be exempted from Lok Sabha election duty. Also, vehicles allotted in the circles/divisions of the Forest Department should not be acquired during the forest fire season-2024, because during the forest fire season, forest personnel are in great need of vehicles for transportation to control forest fires.”  

Having perused the above documents, the NGT find that the circular in regard to the relief claimed in the OA have already been issued by the competent authorities and unless something contrary exists, these circulars need to be complied with by the concerned authorities. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal under Section 14 of the NGT Act, 2010 is limited over all Civil Cases where a substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment) is involved and such question arise out of implementation of the Enactments specified in Schedule I.   

“Since, requisite instructions and guidelines have already been issued and concerned authorities are expected to comply with the same while ensuring smooth holding of election, therefore, it will be open to the applicant to bring the above instructions to the concerned authorities for their compliance in accordance with law. Hence, we are of the view that at this stage, no further direction by the Tribunal is required”, the order reads.  

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