10,000 Trees allegedly cut down in KokaWildlife Sanctuary Range, NNTR.

By Harshal Deshpande.

Bhandara-Gondia: Incidents of massive deforestation of about 10,000 trees in the Koka Wildlife sanctuary within the Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR) region have been reported in past few weeks by Animal rights and Environment conservation activists.

The alleged deforestation activities have been carried out in compartment no. 384, 385,160, 165, 168, 176, 169, 180, 177, 173, 175, 179, 172. These activities were carried out from December 2019 to May 2020 with major part of deforestation activities reported during the period of lockdown.

In a letter dated 7th Oct 2020, sent to the Principal Chief conservator of Forests (PCCF), Maharashtra state, Animal Rights organization People for Animals (PFA) raised the issue of illegal deforestation in the Kokawildlife sanctuary and alleged foul play and corruption within the ranks of officers responsible for protection of the forests. PFA also alleged that excavation of Murrum sand was done in the same region along with massive felling of trees in the region.

The letter to PCCF, Maharashtra state said:

“Incidents of tree-cutting (with axe/machine), tree-felling (with JCB), Murrum excavation (with JCB), illegal transport offorest produce outside the forest have been occurring in various compartments in Koka wildlife sanctuary Rangewhich is a part of Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). These activities have been conductedusing labourers on theorders of officers on duty and it is they who are responsible for the said deforestation and destruction of wildlife. More than 10,000 treeshave been cut down with axe and machines; furniture was made from wood so obtained from cutting down thesetrees. Murrum excavation was done with JCB into near about 3 to 5 meter depth.”

PFA has also alleged the involvement of almost 12 Forest department officers and employees in the KokaWildlife Range of NNTR region. The letter has mentioned the names and the posts of these official who have been alleged to earn profit by selling the timber of the deforested trees outside the forests.

“We have a suspicion that all the Forest department officials in this region are involved and might have been doing this to earn profit in exchange of the timber of the trees of the forest.”, said Mr. Sachin Rangari, PFA Bhandara District Secretary.

Names of the 12 officers and employees mentioned in the complaint letter are as follows:

Sachin Jadhav (RFO, Koka Wildlife Sanctuary Range, NNTR), Smt. R. U. Sawant (ACF, Koka Wildlife Sanctuary, NNTR),Punam Pate (Dy. Field Director, NNTR),Ramanujam(Field Director, NNTR), O. S. Banote(RO, Koka WildlifeSancturary Range, NNTR), Mohan Hake (Forest Guard), Nagpure(RO, Chandrapur Round), Ambule(Forest Guard), Sawsakde(Forest Guard), R. D. Bhendarkar(Round Officer), C. P. Pardhi (Forest Guard).

PFA has demanded formation of Special Investigation team for probing the illegal deforestation and excavation activities in the Koka Wildlife Range.

While talking to Siasat Daily, activist Mr. Sachin Rangarisaid, “The large-scale deforestation in the reserved forest area and that too without any permission from the Ministry is illegal and those officials involved in facilitating this illegal act should be punished. This large-scale deforestation has resulted in destruction of variety of flora and fauna within reserved forest area. Birds and their nests have been destroyed and displaced, animals that were depended on these plants and trees would lead to starvation. Our organisation has written to Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change and are expecting a response.”

On the letter that PFA sent to the PCCF Wildlife, Maharashtra state, Mr. Sachin Rangari said that till now the PCCF has not responded to their complaint. “We waited for almost 21 days and decided to send a complaint letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change on 28th Oct 2020.”, said Mr. Rangari.

On contacting the Mr. Nitin Kakodkar,PCCF Wildlife, Maharashtra, he said that the allegations of massive deforestation in Koka Wildlife Sanctuary range were bogus and frivolous. “The activist Sachin Rangari has been making these frivolous allegations from last few months. We conducted a preliminary enquiry and found nothing last time when similar allegations were made with regard to Murrum excavation in NNTR region.”, said Mr. Kakodkar. On being asked about the action they are going to take on the recent deforestation complaint, Mr. Kakodkar said, “How can you expect an action or formation of any committee just because someone has made allegations? Field Director Mr. Ramanujam will head a preliminary enquiry into the matter.”

In the month of July, Mr. Sachin Rangari had raised the issue of illegal excavation of Murrum sand in the core zone of NNTR. Siasat Daily had reported the issue in detail. An enquiry committee was formed to investigate but as of now as per the environment and animal rights activist Mr. Sachin Rangari, no report about findings of the investigation was given to him.

On contrary to what PCCF Mr. Kakodkar said, Mr. Sachin Rangari told us that Field Director Mr. Ramanujam’s name has been mentioned by him in the complaint letter. “We have been fighting against the illegal excavation that happened in NNTR forest in the month of July. The preliminary enquiry has been managed to save those officials involved in this illegal work. Mr. Ramanujam was the key player who was responsible to misreport ground reality of illegal excavation and deforestation in NNTR core zone last time.”, said Mr. Rangari.

“I have appealed to National Green Tribunal (NGT) about the previous deforestation and illegal Murrum sand excavation issue. The matter is sub-judice as of now. With regard to the massive deforestation in Koka wildlife sanctuary range, despite of writing letters to officials from PCCF Wildlife to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, we still haven’t received any kind of response on this issue. If the official stay unresponsive for long, PFA will take this issue to NGT and if the NGT fails to take appropriate action against the officials involved, we will knock the doors of Supreme Court.”, said Mr. Rangari.

Saisat Daily will be following up this issue and any updates with regard to thiswill be reported in coming days.

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