The principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has extended the stay of tree-felling along the NH7 (National Highway 7), providing temporary relief to the Kanha- Pench tiger corridor. “The stay on felling of trees by the NGT still stands,” said the bench. Irked by the ill-response of authorities, the tribunal also threatened to issue an arrest warrant against the officials concerned.

Representing the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), high profile lawyer and sitting Member of Parliament Pinaki Mishra argued that that the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has permitted the NHAI to fell trees. The NGT however dismissed the argument and said the stay would continue.

The NGT Bench headed by Hon’ble Justice U.D. Salvi hearing the petitioners — Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, Conservation Action Trust and Nature Conservation Society – issued directives to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) to present their replies. In the previous hearing on 3rd July, the NGT had given the NTCA and the MoEFCC ten days to file their replies. The tribunal had also verbally asked officers of the government to be personally present if they cannot file replies.

The NTCA however, had no officer present nor did they file a reply during the hearing. The counsel for NTCA, V. Malhotra and M.P. Sahay replied that the conservation body’s draft reply is still pending with the MoEFCC and therefore it could not file its reply on time.
Warning that it would issue an arrest warrant against him, the NGT asked the Member Secretary of the NTCA to be personally present in the next hearing.

Wildlife experts say that the NTCA is an independent authority which does not need to consult the Ministry. As per Section 38 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the NTCA is an independent statutory authority with powers vested in it. After its reply to the tribunal, conservationists are largely questioning whether the body has lost its independence due to pressure from the government. “The slashing of funds is perhaps is putting pressure on NTCA to toe the pro-development line of the present government,” says Milind Pariwakam, a tiger conservationist.

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