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38,000 trees to be cut for building new High Court in J&K

The Department of Law of Government of Jammu and Kashmir had requested forest clearance in October 2019 for the construction of a new campus to the government’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (henceforth PCCF).

Around 25 hectares of land was required for the job. However, many facilities were listed to be included in the entire structure, as a result, the High Court body asked for 813 kanals (or 40 hectares) to be cleared inside the Bahu Conservation Reserve. Authorities dealt with his matter in a hurry and the proposal passed through eight levels of the chain of command within just four days of submission. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) approved the proposal.

Reports claim that the central government identified 3,36,000 kanals of land throughout Jammu and 1,20,000 kanals in Kashmir for industrial infrastructure development. The State Administrative Council approved the use of 40 hectares of forest land with a condition that the User Agency shall “restrict” the number of trees to be felled to 3,000. However, according to the norms, this whole matter should have got approval from the State Board of Wildlife and the National Board of Wildlife. This whole process was done under Section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997.

This whole exercise raises the question that why were the authorities ready to risk the possibility of rejection from the administration whose approval is the basic requirement under section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997, for the state government to denotify forest land for non-forest use.

Challenging the government’s decision, Satyam Arora has tried all the legal courses available against the diversion of Raika-Bahu forest land. Arora had first approached the National Green Tribunal Principal Bench but his application was dismissed on the grounds that this whole project was passed according to the provisions of law. Satyam told The Logical Indian the administration is admitting the fact that it is passed under the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997 which only permits denotification of land up to 5 acres of area.

Even the Supreme Court has now rejected the appeal of petitioner. Once the process starts then 38,006 trees will be falling inside the sanctioned land. According to the reports, the existing court complex in Janipur is built on an area of 576 kanals. A report by Daily Excelsior in October 2019 claims that the original campus has enough space to accommodate proposed expansion. Google satellite imagery also confirms claims that there is enough space in the existing building for expansion to accommodate 35 judges instead of the 17.

If the existing High Court complex is expanded then sparsely located trees will be compromised whereas the sanctioned land is a ‘very dense forest’ and is even ecologically sensitive because of its close location to the banks of river Tawi.

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