NGT raps Haryana forest dept over forest land diversion for non-forest use by Medanta hospital

 The National Green Tribunal has rapped the Haryana forest department for allowing diversion of forest land for non-forest activities by Medanta hospital in Gurugram.

The tribunal also directed the hospital to pay fine and deposit compensatory afforestation charges as per applicable procedure.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said for the illegality committed by the Haryana Shehari Vikas Parishad in auctioning forest land for non-forest purposes to the hospital, it is liable to pay compensation equal to five times of the Net Present Value (NPV) and also deposit the Compensatory Afforestation charges, as per applicable procedure.

"It is a matter of regret that a statutory authority should have overlooked the illegality of protected forest land being acquired and put to auction for non-forest purposes without following the procedure prescribed under the law.

"On principle, in such cases original position has to be restored and protected forest has to be maintained as such. However, irreversible situation has been created to which the State authorities are party," the bench said.

The tribunal said the area has to be restored to forest department as protected forest is to be managed by the forest department as per Forest Act, 1927 and this has to be ensured by the Chief Administrator, HSVP, Gurgaon forthwith but not later than one month.

The NGT noted that in terms of inspection report of the Regional Officer MoE, area of reserved forest in question is 5530 sq yards. 

Medanta has surrendered 3200 sq yards, as confirmed during the hearing by Counsel for (HSVP) which will now be used as reserved forest, it said.

In lieu of remaining 2330 sq yards, Medanta has offered to give alternative land, at its cost, to be used as reserved forest, the tribunal noted.

"With regard to the balance 2330 sq. yards, the decision of the Environment Ministry granting approval for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes does not call for any interference except that the said conditions for regularisation must be strictly followed. 

"The Medanta will be responsible for compliance of the said conditions, including payment of NPV and Compensatory Afforestation charges, as per applicable procedure. Further condition for such diversion will be as that Medanta will give alternative equal land, at its cost, for forest purposes in lieu of the land allowed to be diverted within one month which will be used exclusively for forest purposes by the forest department," the bench said.

The NGT said alternative land offered should be suitable for the purpose and such suitability may be finally be decided by the forest department, as per law.

"While Medanta may be justified in pleading that it took land in public auction, illegality having come to light, stand of Medanta in continuing to defend the matter is not appreciable. In any case, it is no charity that Medanta has offered alternative land as it is in any case liable to restore the protected forest. Forest Department of Haryana is equally to blame for the situation as it failed to raise the issue.

"The HSVP, Forest  Department and the Medanta may now ensure compliance with these directions within one month from today failing which the concerned statutory authorities may take coercive measures for compliance, including prosecution under the Forest Act," the bench said.

The green panel made it clear that the arrangement is not for condoning the illegality but in view of compulsion of the situation and the peculiar facts making it clear that it cannot be cited as precedent for future, violation of Forest Act being criminal offence which is not condonable especially when much required forest is depleting.

"Land will have to be restored to the forest department. Transfer of protected forest without due procedure being an offence, this order may not be treated as condoning the illegal action but remedying the situation in peculiar fact situation. The land in question may be handed over to the Forest Department. The said department may do proper fencing/guarding, afforestation and maintain the same as protected forest,” the bench said.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by NGO Sarv Jan Kalyan Seva Samiti seeking removal of the wall allegedly being constructed by the hospital in Sector-38 of Gurugram.

The NGO was represented through advocates Siddharth Yadav and Vipin Gupta before the bench, which also comprised Expert Member B S Sajwan.

"Haryana Government vide notification duly notified Jharsa Bund as forest land and the said area falls in the revenue estate of village Jharsa in Gurugram district.

"Medanta hospital (The Medicity) has its land adjacent to the said Jharsa bund/forest land in Sector-38, Gurugram. The bund has been encroached upon by the Respondent no 4 (Medanta) by constructing a concrete wall, further by removing the soil of the said bund, cutting trees and removing them from the spot," the plea alleged.

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