Bahra University

Shimla: Miffed over the non-compliance of its directions, in the matter related to illicit felling of 416 trees in Forest Range Koti, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Friday has directed the Principal Secretary (Forests) and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Shimla to remain present before the Court on April 20.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice L.Narayana Swamy and Justice Anoop Chitkara passed these orders on a petition taken up suo moto by the Court as Public Interest Litigation on a letter written to the Chief Justice for conducting fair and impartial investigation in the matter of illegal felling of trees in the Koti range and for taking action against the culprits including higher authorities of the forest department.

During the course of hearing, the Court observed that as per order dated May 17,2018, directions were issued to register FIR against all the forest officers/officials who were responsible for illicit felling of 416 trees in Forest Range Koti, UPF Shalot and also to initiate disciplinary action against all such forest officers who were responsible for allowing felling of 416 trees over last three-four years in that area. The Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh was directed to comply the directions and file compliance affidavit within a period of two weeks. The Court had also directed Bhoop Ram, who had cut the trees, to deposit a sum of Rs.34,68,233/-(the value ascertained by the forest officials of the felled trees), in the Registry of this Court.

The Court further observed that it is apparent from the affidavits of the Chief Secretary and Deputy Superintendent of Police (City), Shimla, that charges were framed only against three officers i.e., one Beat Guard and two Block Officers out of whom, one has retired and FIR(s) have also been registered against the three officers only and Bhoop Ram.

 The Court observed that the respondents have not complied with the directions passed by this Court, from time to time, in letter and spirit and what action has been taken by the respondents-State is just an eye wash, as no liability has been fixed on the officers/officials who are higher in rank.

The Court directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Shimla to file an affidavit indicating therein as on what basis, the officers, who are in lower rank were held responsible in allowing felling of trees.

The Court also directed the Additional Advocate General to file an affidavit, indicating therein status of the FIR(s), investigating report and status of the trees/saplings, which were planted where illicit felling took place. The Court also directed Bhoop Ram to remain present before the Court on the next date of hearing. The Court has posted the matter for April 20.