Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022
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HC Tells 16 Forest Officials To Pay Rs 34 Lakh, Cost Of 412 Felled Trees In Himachal

The bench said the officials, who were responsible for this loss of 100-year-old trees, have to be put to task and be made accountable.

HC Tells 16 Forest Officials To Pay Rs 34 Lakh, Cost Of 412 Felled Trees In Himachal
Representational image. -

Setting an example, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Saturday directed the government to make 16 forest officers — including two high-ranking ones, accountable for felling of 412 trees in Koti forest range of Shimla, just a few km from the capital town.

The state government has been asked to recover Rs 34.68 lakh as cost of the trees felled by a private person between 2015 and 2018.

The high court was of the strong view that these government officials have actually failed to charge their duty and their failure to protecting the forest trees can’t be measured alone by the cost of the timber.

A division bench of Chief Justice L. Narayana Swamy and Justice Anoop Chitkara passed the landmark order on a PIL taken up by the court suo moto following reports of felling of valuable forest trees.

The court observed, “The state (government) must have recovered the cost of timber, but value of trees cannot be evaluated as trees are oxygen producer and de-carbonizer.”

The bench said the officials, who were responsible for this loss of 100-year-old trees, have to be put to task and be made accountable. This kind of illegal and illicit felling of trees cannot be compensated in any manner, it added.

The court directed the principal secretary (forests) for computation of recovery of Rs 34,68,233 from the 16 officials, including two conservator of forests, two divisional forest officers, three assistant conservator of forests, two range forest officers, six block officers and one forest guard, who were posted at Bhalawag Beat,  Koti forest range, Shimla, between  2015 and 2018.

The court, however, gave an opportunity to these officers to appear before the court on May 27, if they want themselves to be heard before making the aforesaid recovery and entry of the aforesaid lapse in their service record.

During the course of hearing, amicus curiae  Bipin Negi, a senior advocate, informed the court that it was the of the range officer, assistant conservator of forest, divisional forest officer and deputy conservator of forests to carry out field inspection and detect felling of trees.

Even after the felling was detected during an inquiry and spot inspections done, no appropriate action was taken. The action, instead, was taken against the lower rung of officials while the high-ranked ones were spared.

State’s advocate general Ashok Sharma also submitted that three officials failed to bring the felling of the trees to the notice of their superiors, therefore, action was initiated against them.

According to Sharma, one Bhoop Ram, who was a licensee of a stone crusher, had illegally cut 416 trees, the cost of which was Rs 34,68,233. Out of this, almost the entire amount has been recovered except approximately Rs 4 lakh.

On this, the court observed that responsibility of felling of trees should be fixed on persons ranging from the forest guard upto the principal chief conservator of forests, as all these officials failed to take action. There was dereliction of duty on their part too.

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