Himachal court summons top officials over illegal felling of trees

Shimla, April 9 (IANS) Miffed over the non-compliance of its directions on illicit felling of 416 trees, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Friday directed the Principal Secretary (Forests) and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to be present in the court on April 20.

A division bench of Chief Justice L. Narayana Swamy and Justice Anoop Chitkara passed this order on a letter taken up suo moto as public interest litigation for conducting a fair and impartial investigation into the illegal felling of trees in the Koti forest range.

During the hearing, the court observed that on May 17, 2018 directions were issued to register a first information report (FIR) and initiate disciplinary action against the forest officers and officials, who were responsible for the illicit tree felling.

The Chief Secretary was directed to comply with the directions and file a compliance affidavit within two weeks. The court had also directed Bhoop Ram, who had cut the trees, to deposit Rs 34,68,233, the value ascertained by forest officials of the felled trees, in the court registry.

The bench observed that it is apparent from the affidavits of the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Shimla, that charges were framed only against three officers and also against Bhoop Ram.

The court observed that the respondent i.e. the state has not complied with the directions passed from time to time in letter and spirit and whatever action was taken was just an eyewash as no liability was fixed on the officers who were higher in rank.

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

It also directed the Additional Advocate General to file an affidavit, indicating therein the status of the FIR(s), investigating report and status of the trees and saplings, which were planted where the illicit felling took place.

The court directed Bhoop Ram to remain present before the court on the next date of hearing on April 20.