SC criticizes former Forest Minister and DFO for illegal construction in Jim Corbett National Park, saying “politicians and bureaucrats have thrown the public trust doctrine in the dustbin”

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While hearing the In Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India case on March 06, 2024, the Supreme Court (SC) of India came down heavily on former Uttarakhand Forest Minister Harak Singh Rawat and Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Kishan Chand for illegal construction and felling of trees in the Jim Corbett National Park. It said that events like illegal constructions and illicit felling of trees on a rampant scale such as the one that happened in the Corbett National Park could not be ignored; therefore, steps are required to be taken to prevent the same. 

While criticizing the former forest minister and DFO, the bench said, “This is a classic case that shows how the politicians and the bureaucrats have thrown the public trust doctrine in the dustbin.” If further added, “This is a case that shows how a nexus between a Politician and a Forest Officer has resulted in causing heavy damage to the environment for some political and commercial gain. Even the recommendation of the Senior Officers of the Forest Department, the Vigilance Department, and the Police Department which objected to his posting at a sensitive post have been totally ignored. We are amazed at the audacity of the then Hon’ble Forest Minister and Mr. Kishan Chand, DFO  in giving a total go-bye to the statutory provisions. However, since the matter is pending investigation by the CBI, we do not propose to comment any further on the matter.” The SC also directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to effectively investigate the matter and told them to submit a status report from the probe agency within 3 months. 

In this case, the bench comprising Justice BR GavaiJustice Prashant Kumar Mishra, and Justice Sandeep Mehta said that it did not wish to interfere with the decision to establish the ‘Tiger Safari’ at Pakhrau. It opined, “The Safaris which are already existing and the one under construction at Pakhrau will not be disturbed. However, insofar as the Safari at ‘Pakhrau’ is concerned, we direct the State of Uttarakhand to relocate or establish a rescue centre in the vicinity of the ‘Tiger Safari’.” Moreover, the bench also ordered to constitute a committee to recommend the measures for restoration of damages as well as assess the environmental damage caused in the Corbett Tiger Reserve and quantify the costs for restoration. The SC directed the MoEF&CC to appoint a committee consisting of “a representative of the NTCA; a representative of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII); a representative of the CEC; and an officer of the MoEF&CC not below the rank of Joint Secretary as its Member Secretary.” 

The SC also directed the State of Uttarakhand to complete the disciplinary proceedings against the delinquent officers as expeditiously as possible, within six months from March 06, 2024. It further ordered to submit the status report in this regard within 3 months from March 06, 2024.