NGT orders verification of encroachments in Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani by Jan 31

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New Delhi, Oct 29 (PTI) Taking note of illegal constructions and encroachment in Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani region in Maharashtra, the National Green Tribunal has directed the state government to complete the verification of such properties by January 31 next year.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said it is clear that there are forest 'alike' areas identified as such and there are encroachments in violation of the law.

Accordingly, let the verification process be completed positively by January 31, 2021, to the extent such work is still pending, the NGT said.

'Thereafter, in respect of such area as is found to be encroached in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Collector, Satara and the Forest Department may straightaway proceed to remove the encroachments for which no approval of MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) will be required even if such area is part of the ecologically sensitive zone,' the bench said.

The area is in an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) does not mean that law is not to be enforced there, the tribunal said.

It noted that a high-powered committee under the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act could not take any decision with respect to encroachments in violation of the Supreme Court judgement.

'In respect of such identified encroachments, no further procedure remains to be followed, except the verification as proposed for which three months' time should be enough. The schedule proposed assumes that nothing has been done so far and action is to start only now.

'Since all relevant data is available, the timeline needs to be shortened. The authorities should not think of unending exercise in violation of declared law of the land. Plan has to be now for action as per law promptly,' the bench said.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Bombay Environment Action Group which alleged that non-forest development activities in 'forest alike areas' called 'Vansadrushya' are taking place in Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani region in Maharashtra in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

The plea, filed through advocate Sanjay Upadhyay, sought demolition of structures constructed illegally in the above areas without following the procedure prescribed under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act.

According to the applicant, the Zonal Master Plan/Regional Plan prepared for municipal council areas of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani under Section 15(1) of the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act, 1966 specifies the Forest 'Alike' areas.

The area was declared an ESZ as per a notification dated January 17, 2001, the plea said. PTI PKS DIV DIV