The Gauhati High Court has directed the State respondents to ensure that no further construction of houses/buildings/ structures should be made within the Tlawng Hnar Reserve Forest Area.
The Aizawal Division Bench of Justice Michael Zothankhuma and Justice Marli Vankung heard a Suo Motu PIL on the issue of indiscriminate felling of trees in Aizawl.
On perusing the additional affidavit filed by the Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department on 24.08.2022, the Court noted that there has been large scale encroachment of the reserve forest at Tlawng Hnar by various individuals and the Government. The additional affidavit states that Lungpuizawl village has been established inside the reserve forest and the same was notified by the Local Administrative Department, Government of Mizoram, vide Notification dated 04.04.1997. On the other hand, the Reserve Forest at Tlawng Hnar had been declared as such, vide Notification dated 04.05.1978.
The affidavit also states that a Mini Sports Complex had been constructed by the Sports Department within the Reserve Forest without obtaining any clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and that a proposal for obtaining clearance was submitted through the PARIVESH portal on 25.02.2022. On the other hand, the Mini Sports Complex had already been constructed prior to the proposal for obtaining clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Further, this PIL was registered in 2021.
The additional affidavit also states that while no mining permit was issued by the Geology and Mining Department within the Tlawnghnar Reserve Forest area, 6 stone quarries were being operated and the Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department was collecting royalty from the stone quarry operators/owners, instead of restricting them from carrying on quarry works. It has also been stated that the operation of the stone quarries inside the Tlawnghnar Reserve Forest area has been stopped.
It is further stated in the affidavit that the District Park is located inside the Riverine Reserve Forest area and the same was established by the Local Administrative Department.
The Court directed the State respondents to ensure that no quarrying activity is allowed to take place within the Tlawnghnar Reserve Forest area. Further, the State respondents, especially, the Public Health Engineering Department shall file an additional affidavit stating as to the steps are to be taken by them, for removal of water tanks constructed by the individuals/Police and to find ways and means to make collection points outside the Tlawnghnar Reserve Forest area for public consumption and not for commercial purposes.
The Court further directed that the Land Revenue & Settlement Department should not issue any new Land Settlement Certificates, Periodic Pattas, House Pass and lease to any individual or authority. They shall also consider taking steps for doing away with the land documents that have already been issued, subsequent to the declaration of the Tlawng Hnar Reserve Forest area in 1978.
The additional affidavit said that the Lungpuizawl village has been notified by the Local Administrative Department vide Notification dated 04.04.1997,i.e. 19 years after the notification of the Tlawng Hnar Reserve Forest area in 1978. Assuch, the village should not have been allowed to be established by the Government subsequent to 1978. The action of the Local Administrative Department is totally in contravention of the notification dated 04.05.1978 declaring the Tlawng Hnar Reserve Forest area.
The additional affidavit also pointed out the fact that the Mini SportsComplex constructed by the Sport Department is within the Tlawng Hnar Riverine Reserve Forest area, which is again in violation of the Notification dated 04.05.1978and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. No prior approval of the Government of India Was taken before constructing the Mini Sports Complex.
“The State Government would have to earnestly consider, as to whether the rights/expectations of a few persons can out-weigh the rights of more than half the population of Mizoram. In any event, the alleged rights of a few persons who have utilized the land within the Tlawng Hnar Reserve Forest area appears to be illegal and as such, no person can be allowed to take advantage of an illegality, be it the Government or an individual’, the order reads.
In the additional affidavit dated 27.09.2022, it has also been stated that the tree cover reported by Forest Survey of India (FSI) in its report (ISFR, 2021) and the tree cover outside recorded forest is 444.00 sq. km. The additional affidavit also states that theState of Mizoram is already having guidelines for felling of trees from non-forest area and guidelines for felling and removal of trees from municipal areas of cities, town,villages and along highways, railways and other government/public lands.
Therefore the Court granted the Government Advocate a week’s time to obtain instructions and file a final report of the Verification Team if any, by the next date. The matter is listed on October 20, 2022.