The Telegraph
Thursday , October 10 , 2013
 
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Delhi frowns on army in Sonai

Guwahati, Oct. 9: The Union ministry of environment and forests has asked the Assam forest department to send a detailed report on the “occupation” of the army in Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district.

Sources said this was recommended by the forest advisory committee of the ministry in a meeting in September to discuss an army proposal for diversion of 481.566 hectares of forestland for construction of ammunition depot in Charduar reserve forest under Sonitpur west division. The area is close to Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary, separated by a road of about 12 to 15 feet only. The army has already “occupied” 200 acres of land in the Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary, the committee said.

“A detailed report from chief wildlife warden about occupation of the army, including the exact area of occupation and date since when land is occupied and justification for such occupation by the user agency, is required,” the committee said in its report.

The ministry has also sought comments from the chief wildlife warden on the project site and the National Board for Wildlife status as the site is close to a protected area.

An environment clearance will be required as the built-up area proposed for the project is more than 20,000 square metres and 72 trees will be felled.

A stretch of the proposed area for diversion has been encroached upon by indigenous communities and the area under encroachment is currently used for cultivation and settlement. It also has a few important timber species and Asian elephants sometimes stray in the area.

The regional office of the ministry of environment and forests had stated in its site inspection report that the proposal for diversion of 481.566 hectares for the same purpose was accorded “in-principle approval” by the ministry in 2005 in the adjacent area. It stated neither compliance to the conditions stipulated nor the reasons for abandoning the earlier site have been mentioned.

The report has asked the forest department to submit a revised compensatory afforestation plan after identification of a new site, which is free from encumbrances along with site suitability certificate from competent authority.

The department had recommended the proposal in view of the importance of national security and strategic location of the identified site, which is near the road/foothills of the Arunachal Pradesh border and has the barest minimum forestland with less vegetation. The 220 square km Sonai Rupai sanctuary had lost 85 square km to encroachment before 2007. The sanctuary is 190km from Guwahati.

The army was in the docks in 2011 when it was asked by the ministry of environment and forests not to practise in the firing range until it obtained the necessary clearance. The Telegraph had published three reports on the issue.

The ministry took up the matter after it had received representations from various quarters, including the members of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife, on the construction and use of the firing range inside the sanctuary.