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Govt not likely to oppose CBI inquiry into illegal tree felling case related to Corbett National Park

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By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 20 Sep: Sources in the government have claimed that it may not oppose the decision on a CBI inquiry into the case of illegal tree felling in Corbett National Park. Initially, after the Uttarakhand High Court (HC) had ordered a CBI inquiry into the illegal tree felling in the Pakhro Range of Corbett National Park, the government was mulling challenging the decision in the Supreme Court.

However, on deeper consideration of the issue, the sources confirm that the Dhami Government will not be challenging the HC decision and will agree to the CBI Inquiry. Sources said that the state level inquiry and the internal inquiries of the forest department have also confirmed large scale illegal felling of Khair and other trees in violation of the rules. This decision of the government to not challenge the HC decision will certainly affect many senior present and retired senior forest officers, who either were directly involved in illegal felling or chose to look the other way when this was happening. The CBI inquiry may also increase the troubles of the then Forest Minister, Harak Singh Rawat, who is also under the scanner in this case. In fact, the High Court had specifically asked the government why his name had not been mentioned in the inquiry report summary submitted to it. After this, the HC had ordered a CBI investigation.

The names of some senior forest officers have surfaced regarding grant of financial approvals at the government level for illegal construction in the Pakhro Range of Corbett National Park for a ‘tiger safari’. With the CBI inquiry almost certain to begin now, many top officers are expected to be in the dock. It has also emerged that the permission had been granted to fell only 163 trees for the Tiger Safari Project but, in reality, over 6,000 trees had been illegally felled for the project, which was to come up in an area of 106 hectares. The project was shelved once the large scale irregularities became a matter of public knowledge. In fact, some senior forest officers had raised their objection in the initial stages of the project, too but their concerns were ignored. Following the state level inquiry, the then Chief Wildlife Warden, JS Suhag, and the then DFO of Kalagarh, Kishan Chand, were blamed. Both the officers were suspended in this case. At present both the officers have retired.

Not only this, the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court has also taken a tough stance on this issue. To get accurate information about how many trees were cut in the Pakhro Tiger Safari, a survey of the area was also conducted by the Forest Survey of India. The survey revealed that permission was given to cut 163 trees for Pakharo Tiger Safari, but 6093 trees were felled. On October 21, 2022, NGT had banned the construction of Pakhro Tiger Safari. Besides, a committee was also constituted to investigate all the aspects. This committee of three members submitted a report of about 128 pages to the National Green Tribunal in March 2023, in which complete information about illegal activities is given. Names of some senior officials of the Forest Department were also given in this report. Besides, questions were also raised on the role of the then Forest Minister Harak Singh Rawat.