The chief wildlife warden (CWLW) of Uttarakhand JS Suhag on Wednesday told the high court (HC) that the denotification of Shivalik Elephant Reserve and the expansion of Jolly Grant Airport are two separate issues. He added that it is “just a coincidence that the 87 hectares of land which will be acquired for the expansion of the airport is part of the Shivalik reserve.”
In the affidavit, the CWLW said that the denotification of the reserve does not have anything to do with the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes.
The affidavit, a copy of which is available with TOI, further says that the process of acquiring 87 hectares of reserved forest for a non-forestry purpose is “under consideration at the level of competent authority for approval under the provisions of section-II of the Forest Conservation Act” and that the transfer process can continue “irrespective of whether the Shivalik Elephant Reserve exists or not”.
As reported by TOI earlier, the Uttarakhand HC, while hearing a PIL last month, had stayed the government order that denotified Shivalik reserve, Uttarakhand’s only elephant reserve. The court had then said that the Forest Conservation Act mandated that the state should have permission from the Centre before diverting any forest land for non-forestry purposes. Citing objections raised by the Centre in its letter that asked the state to look for alternate land, the court had stated that there was no evidence to show that the central government had given its consent.
However, the state government has now argued that its January notification was only about cancellation of an earlier notification from 2002 – which had notified Shivalik as an elephant reserve – and that Centre’s letter is about non-forestry use of reserve forest land (expansion of the airport), a matter that is still under consideration.
The court has now directed the member secretary of the state wildlife board to remain present before the court in the next hearing as he failed to submit his response. The court has also asked the petitioner, Doon-based environmental activist Reenu Paul to amend her petition.
The case has now been listed for further hearing on March 17.