Shivani Azad / TNN / Updated: Sep 19, 2021
DEHRADUN: A tiger safari through Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR)— which was envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his shoot of an episode of ‘Man Vs Wild’ for Discovery channel at the tiger reserve in 2019 — is in the eye of a storm after a plea sent to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) alleged that 10,000 trees in the protected area, as opposed to the 163 trees proposed by the state, were felled for the project.
On Friday, Sonali Ghosh, deputy inspector general of forests, Central Zoo Authority (CZA), sought the actual status of trees cut from the Uttarakhand forest department. Rajiv Bhartari, head of forest force (Uttarakhand), told TOI he has asked for a factual report from PCCF (wildlife) within a week.
In 2019, Uttarakhand had sought approval from the ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) for its first tiger safari which would provide a ‘sure-shot glimpse’ of the big cat to visitors.
In its submission, the state had said that 163 trees would be felled for the project.
The green signal for the Pakhro safari was given and work began soon after.
A plea, however, was filed in the NTCA on August 26 this year by Supreme Court advocate and activist Gaurav Bansal, claiming that 10,000 trees were felled in Corbett to set up the safari.
It sought verification of the actual number of trees felled and cancellation of approvals given to the project by NTCA and CZA.
Talking to TOI, Bansal said, “The project is spread over 106 hectares and a minimum of 10,000 trees have been felled to set up the safari. This is in violation of a Supreme Court order as well.” The Supreme Court in a judgment in 2001 had stated that no tree in CTR should be felled “under any circumstance by the state or anyone else”.
According to Bansal’s complaint, in order to use the land in Corbett’s Pakhro block (Sonanadi range) for non-forestry activity, a clearance was required from the forest advisory committee under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
“Uttarakhand forest department gave in writing to the FAC that 163 trees will be felled. The permission granted to establish the safari was primarily based on this,” the complaint said.
Divisional forest officer (Kalagarh), Kisanchand, under whose jurisdiction the area of the tiger safari falls, dismissed the allegations and said only 163 trees were marked and felled by the forest corporation.
A source in the forest department, however, admitted that “officials knew 10,000 to 12,000 trees would have to be felled for the project”.
“Everyone at the higher level knew that thousands of trees would need to be axed for this project to see the light of day. There was probably pressure to get the safari off the ground,” the source said.
Notably, director of Corbett Tiger Reserve, Rahul (who only uses his first name), had written to the sub-divisional officer (SDO) of Kalagarh on July 6 to ensure “all activities related to the safari project are in accordance with law”.
“The Pakhro tiger safari was an announcement of the Prime Minister of India and it is one of the most important projects of the state government. Therefore, tree felling and all the other works related to the safari must be done in accordance with law and guidelines so that this important project doesn’t get into any controversy,” the letter said.