Uttaranchal High Court: The Division Bench of Raghvendra Singh Chauhan, CJ, and Alok Kumar Verma, J., issued directions in relation to a writ filed by Mr Rajiv Bhartari, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Department of Forest.
The Bhartari informed the Court that annually from March till June, the State is prone to forest fires and so far, 52 incidents had occurred ranging from District Nainital to District Champawat to District Udham Singh Nagar. Between October, 2020 till March, 2021, there have been about 852 incidents of forest fires, which have adversely affected 1012 hectares of land. According to him, the Forest Department has a large number of vacancies. The sanctioned strength of Forest Guards is 3650, out of which there is a vacancy of 2098. Thus, there is a vacancy of 65% of the staff. Similarly, there is 82% vacancies in the cadre of Assistant Conservators of Forest. Mr Bhartari further informed that Department had formulated a “Crisis Management Plan”. And despite, the best efforts of the Forest Department to implement the same, due to shortage of funds and due to shortage of staff, the Forest Department was not in a position to implement the plan in toto.
Mr Dushyant Mainali, the proxy counsel for Mr Ankit Shah, the counsel for the petitioner, submitted that despite the stay granted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the said judgment, in the case of Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine NGT 30, the National Green Tribunal had dealt with the phenomena of forest fires in the State of Uttarakhand and issued certain guidelines.
The Court after considering the arguments directed that the guidelines issued by the NGT in Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine NGT 30 should be implemented as expeditiously as possible. The Court further directed,
“(1) The State should ensure that sufficient fund is given to the Forest Department so that the vacancies can be filled up. Therefore, the State, especially the Forest Department, should ensure that sixty-five percent vacancies in the cadre of Forest Guard are eliminated, and all the vacancies are filled-up within a period of six months. Moreover, the eighty-two percent vacancies that exist in the cadre of Assistant Conservator of Forest should equally be filled-up as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months. Likewise, the vacancies existing in the cadre of Ranger should be filledup as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months. Moreover, the Forest Department should have the necessary equipments and the physical infrastructure. For, until and unless sufficient manpower and physical infrastructure are not provided to the Forest Department, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Forest Department, to carry out its functions.”
[In Re, In the matter of, “Protection of Forest Area, Forest Wealth and Wild Life due to devastation from the extensive forest fires in the State of Uttarakhand.” v. State of Uttarakhand, Writ Petition (PIL) No. 68 OF 2018, decided on 07-04-2021]
Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.