Chennai: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has rapped the state forest department for failing to curb the illegal constructions that Isha Foundation had carried out within the Booluvapatti reserve forest range, known for its elephant corridor.
The CAG report, tabled in the State Assembly on Monday, noted that the constructions were carried out without obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA). A Government order in 2003 had vested the HACA with the responsibility to ensure development on the hills does not affect the ecological balance in the region.
P Muthumal, President of the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society, who had filed a PIL against the unauthorised construction on wetlands, had pointed out that the Isha structures had disturbed the route of wild elephants which led to them to attacking the visiting devotees.
“Despite its district field officer from Coimbatore conducting an assessment of the areas and observing the violation in February 2012, the Forest Department failed to stop further construction,” the CAG report said, noting that Isha had put up constructions in an area of 32,856 sq.ft. without the HACA nod.
Isha had sought NOC from forest department in 2011 but went ahead with its constructions despite notices from the forest department in February and April 2012. The forest department rejected the Isha application in 2013 but took no follow-up on constructions that had come up or to stop further building, the CAG report said.
It noted that Isha re-approached the forest department stating that NOC was obtained from Tahsildar, Revenue Department and requested NOC of forest department for approaching HACA. DFO (District Forest Officer), Coimbatore forwarded the request to Principal Chief Conservators of Forest (PCCF) with recommendation for the grant of HACA permission, the report said.
Requesting anonymity, an ex- PCCF admitted to DC that the NOC was issued regardless of violations. “A Housing Committee of the HACA was supposed to look into it. This was not my job. I do not think they have made a decision yet,” he said. Isha insists it did not violate rules. “Isha Foundation is not aware of the details presented in the CAG report,” says Rahul Dubey, official spokesperson of Isha Foundation. “We affirm that we have followed the due process for getting the approvals for our buildings,” he added.
Environmentalists allege that the government and the forest department worked hand in hand to allow the constructions on encroachments, which the Prime Minister inaugurated in February 2017....