The National Green Tribunal central zone bench Bhopal on Thursday stayed felling of trees in Buxwaha project until further orders.
The lush green forest has plunged into a mega diamond mining project and according to government estimates, close to 2.15 lakh trees are to be cut down in the forest while the environment experts ad activists claim that the number is much larger.
The environment watchdog in its order instructed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) for making sure that no tree is felled. And it also instructed the formation of an expert panel under the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act.
The tribunal has issued notices to the Centre, state government, forest government and the private mining company for furnishing a reply within four weeks time. And also ordered the petitioners to hand over all the relevant documents and copies of the petition to the respondents. The matter has been posted for hearing on August 27.
Nagrik Upbhokta Manch a volunteer organisation from Jabalpur led by PG Najpande, Guna-based resident, Dr. Pushprag and Ujjawal Sharma had moved to NGT in separate petitions over felling of trees in Buxwaha forest. The petitioners had also challenged the approval assigned for the diamond project in the forest area.
Claiming recovery of prehistoric rock paintings in the forest area, the petitioners on June 21 had urged the tribunal to direct the Archaeological Survey of India to submit a report in the matter.
The counsels of the miner company claimed that the matter is already pending with the high court and the Supreme Court and two petitions are now pending with the NGT and alleged that the private company is being harassed unnecessarily.
The NGT was told that there is no wildlife sanctuary or reserve forest area within ten kilometre periphery of the forest area and no protected wild animals are present in the region. An estimated 3.80 lakh trees will be planted in the area as against 2.15 lakh trees which will be felled, the NGT was told by respondents.
After completing the hearing on June 30, the NGT bench had reserved the order and delivered it on Thursday.
Advocate Pushprag on the decision said that the NGT has served notices to all the respondents and also directed the forest dept that not a single tree should be cut down unless all the clearances are secured which is a major success for environment lovers.
According to initial estimates, scores of varieties of trees including herbal plants will be cut down in a 382-hectare area for the diamond mining project and 8,000 dwellers of nearby 20 villages will be impacted. The region is estimated to have 3.42 cr carrot diamonds and the area has been leased out to private miners for 50 years.
Environment experts are apprehensive that the destruction of the forest could worsen the water availability in the parched Bundelkhand region.
Besides natives of Chhatrapur, locals of Sagar, Damoh, Panna, and others have raised voices against the destruction of this forest. Volunteer Anand Patel claimed that 140 big and small organisations have pledged support for the ‘Save Buxwaha campaign’. A national coordination committee has been formed with participation from volunteers from states like MP, Punjab, Rajasthan, and many others, said Patel.
A public awareness campaign is proposed in Chhatarpur from July 24 to 26 which comprises inspection of the forest, meetings with villagers, handing a memorandum to the district administration and public representatives. The volunteers are persisting with a campaign on and off social media in the last couple of months.
Kids from India, Bhutan, US, Nigeria, UK, and others have extended support to the campaign on social media.
Convener of Buxwaha Jungle Bachao campaign, Sharad Singh Kumre said that recently during the Harit Satyagrah protest in Chhatarpur, villagers including people of all age groups pledged to save the forest. If the government has closed down all routes of dialogue, we have started conversation with the public, said Kumre.
PIL filed with SC
An environment lover Neha Singh had in May this year moved a Public Interest Litigation with the Supreme Court of India against the felling of trees in Buxwaha seeking a stay on the proposed diamond project. The plea had urged the apex court for stopping the destruction of natural resources of the country in the name of development. Permitting deforestation has violated environmental laws and people’s rights said the plea.
‘Those opposing diamond project are communists’
Speaking to a regional newspaper recently, the BJP state head VD Sharma had alleged that those opposing the diamond project were of communist ideology and always hindered the nation’s growth. He had affirmed that the state government functions within the limits of the law. The project will bring large-scale employment, said Sharma.