Chennai: After waging a legal battle for four decades, Tamil Nadu forest department has finally got a shot in its arm as Madras high court on Friday passed orders under which a part of Singampatty jamin in Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger (KMTR) reserve can now be declared as reserve forests.
The controversial 8,373 sprawling land is a catchment area for Thamirabharani river endemic to south Tamil Nadu.
According to TN foresters, the litigation pertaining to 8,373 acres of land in possession of Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation (BBTC) in KMTR has been pending since 1970s when the proclamation was made by the government to notify this land as Reserve forest under Tamil Nadu forest Act 1882. BBTC has opposed this and after several rounds of litigation, high court judge Justice M.M. Sundaresh passed orders holding that the forest settlement officer can proceed to notify reserve forest, however, the same shall be subject to the right of BBTC grand under section 19 A of the Tamil Nadu Estates (Abolition and conversion into Ryothwari) Act 1948, whereby the erstwhile board of revenue has permitted BBTC to be in possession of this land till the end of the original lease period which lapses by 2028, foresters said.
The claim made by BBTC for grant of ryothwari patta to these lands has been dismissed by the high court. The writ petition filed by BBTC challenging the show cause notice issued by forest department as BBTC has cleared the forest area in violation of the terms of the lease has also been dismissed by high court, w-hi-ch directed BBTC to send reply to the show cause notice with consequent direction to the government to pass orders with in eight weeks, sources explained.
Welcoming the court direction, an enthralled A. Venkatesh, chief conservator of forest and field director, KMTR said that a 40-year-old litigation has come to an end. This area is an important catchment for Thamirabarani besides a home for many endangered species, recently declared as Agasthiyarmalai Biosphere Reserve. “The state now has to take steps as per the Forest Conservation Act to ensure that the ecology is restored so that the tiger reserve is well protected. Further, it’s time to reclaim the shola forests from the corporate estate owners,” said Dr A Kumaraguru, wildlife conservationist and member of Sathyamangalam Tiger Conservation Authority.
According to advocate M. Santhanaraman additional government pleader (Forests) the judgment passed by Justice Sundaresh is a moral boost to the depleting wildlife, as the petitioner is directed not to extent the area of cultivation or to clear the forest in any manner.
The lease amount being paid by BBTC now is Rs 1.75 paise per acre, the forest department asked them to pay enhanced rent as per GO, however BBTC has changed the same. The High Court which dismissed the writ petition had also directed the government to fix enhanced rate of rent.