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Uttarakhand High Court Orders CBI Probe Into Alleged Illegal Construction in Corbett Tiger Reserve

In a significant development, the Uttarakhand High Court has issued an order directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate allegations of illegal construction within the Corbett Tiger Reserve and the reported felling of nearly 6,000 trees to facilitate the creation of a tiger safari. This decision comes as a response to both a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) initiated by the Court and a plea filed by a Dehradun resident, Anu Pant.

Serious Allegations Against State Authorities

A division bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Alok Kumar Verma highlighted the gravity of the allegations, implicating higher authorities of the state, including former forest minister Harak Singh Rawat. The Court asserted that it could not merely stand by as a spectator in the face of these allegations.

The Court further expressed the view that suspending some officers would not suffice and called for a comprehensive CBI probe into the matter, emphasizing the need for cooperation from all state authorities.

Prima Facie Case for CBI Investigation

The bench stated, “We are satisfied that the material on record does disclose a prima facie case calling for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Therefore, the present matter is referred to CBI for proper and uninfluenced investigation in accordance with the law.”

Unapproved Construction and Tree Felling

The case revolves around the unauthorized construction of administrative buildings, internal roads, service roads, guard huts, and animal holding areas within the sensitive areas of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, without the necessary administrative and financial approvals. Initially, authorities claimed that only 163 trees were cut for these purposes, but subsequent reports revealed that nearly 6,000 trees had been felled.

Despite several inquiries into the role of officials and alleged violations of environmental laws, the Court noted that no substantial action had been taken against those responsible.

Role of Former Forest Minister and Divisional Forest Officer

A report by a Central Empowered Committee formed by the National Green Tribunal implicated the former forest minister, Harak Singh Rawat, in the planning and execution of illegal constructions and unauthorized buildings within the tiger reserve. The report also named the then Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Kishan Chand, alleging a history of irregularities and questionable conduct.

It was alleged that the minister disregarded advice from the State vigilance department, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), and Head of Forest Force (HoFF) when appointing Kishan Chand to sensitive positions.

Legal Representation

Advocate Abhijay Negi represented the petitioner, Anu Pant, while the State of Uttarakhand was represented by Special Counsel Atul Sharma, Additional Chief Standing Counsel Rajeev Singh Bisht, and Standing Counsel Gajendra Tripathi. The Union of India was represented through its Standing Counsel VK Kapruwan.


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