Himachal forest minister should be removed in 477 trees felling case

Shimla: Strange are the ways in which the Himachal government works. Next to Shimla town at the Tara Devi Temple 477 deodar and oak trees have been cut on a private property. As per media reports the property has either been sold or leased out to construct a hotel.

Taradevi  forest cut
Pic courtsey: Amar Ujala

No wonders then the 477 trees were mysteriously cut. Both the land owner and the director of the hotel company denied any knowledge about the illegal felling of the trees. Perminder Kaur, owner, in a letter given to Forest Conservator Shimla, said she was unaware about the felling of trees. She said she had not authorised anyone to act on her behalf for any other work relating to her land.

The 477 trees were cut in the first week of November, 2014 in an area of 38 bighas next to the Temple on Tara Devi hills. The forest department came to know about the illegal felling by November 14, 2014. FIR was lodged with the Shimla Police initially. Both the  police and the forest department did not take any action on the complaint. The forest department took a very casual approach to the whole affair and did not issue notice to owners of the land till November 19, as it said it had no address or contact number of the owners.

It is no secret that such large-scale felling of trees could not have been possible without tacit understanding and support of forest officials and minister in the Virbhadra Singh cabinet. It seems the reason that  the Forest Department and Shimla Police chose to look the other way is that some powerful people ordered them not to take any action.

The Himachal Pradesh Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri was earlier quoted that no permission from the Forest Department was required to fell trees on private land.

tara devi tree felling case
Thakur Singh Bharmouri, Himachal Forest Minister

Considering the minister’s statement it is obvious that the entire investigation being conducted by the Congress government is merely an eyewash. The 477 trees have been cut with the tactical approval from the top. The entire wood is no where to be seen in the forest and has been removed from the forest first by cutting into sleepers right in the forest. After felling the trees the branches were cut  and burnt. Considering the size and scale of the operation there was no fear of law on the people who carried this out.

As is customary after such high profile incident the state government suspended and transferred a few officials. Beat guards, a deputy range officer and a DFO has been suspended and Conservator (forests) Sanjay Sood, who was posted in Shimla circle, has been shifted.

Another interesting fact that has come to light is that the Revenue Department has reportedly undertaken demarcation of that land, measuring about 38 bighas, on which the trees were illegally cut on November 12, after the trees had been felled. The department staff, who did the demarcation, said they were under the impression that such large-scale felling was done with the permission of the forest authorities. The Forest Department got to know about the felling on November 14.

The National Green Tribunal took a suo motu cognisance of illegal felling of the trees and issued notice to the chief secretary and the principal secretary (forests) to file their reply before Jan 8, the next date of hearing.

The law is very lenient in such cases where the felling is done in private land. One is required to take permission to cut the tree on private land. Irrespective of the number of trees cut illegaly, the law recommends a fine of mere Rs. 500/ in such cases.

Such a large  scale operation in the middle of the forests in the state capital Shimla would not have been possible without the blessings of the top people sitting in the government. The kind of statements given by the Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri gives credibility to this notion and he should be removed from the ministry so that an impartial probe can take place.

A special thanks to the media especially The Tribune, Chandigarh which was the first to expose the whole case forcing the government out of the slumber. Had it not been a vigilant media, this case would never have been reported.

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