The National Green Tribunal has slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 on the Assam Government for undertaking river diversion work inside Manas National Park without prior approval of the Centre. In its final judgment, the National Green Tribunal said it was of the view that it was mandatory to obtain approval from the Centre under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 before commencement of a project in a wildlife area and the Assam government had violated environmental norms.
‘This is definitely a bad practice and if the government departments disregard the laws framed by Parliament, then it may be a difficult task to check the violation by private parties,’ said the tribunal in the judgement. The tribunal further informed that in view of the action of the Assam government on breach of environmental law and considering the fact that the applicant, a public spirited person, has approached the tribunal for relief, a litigation cost should be imposed. Hence, Rs 50,000 is required to be paid by the state of Assam to the applicant within eight weeks. The application was filed by Rohit Choudhury, a social activist involved in forest and wildlife conservation, in 2014.
Choudhury has challenged the work undertaken by the Assam government on the rivers Beki, Manas and Hakua at Mathanguri inside Manas National Park without taking the mandatory clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the National Board for Wildlife.
The ministry had informed the applicant, who had filed an RTI, that no proposal was received from the Assam government for diversion of the Manas River at Mathanguri, no site inspection was done by the ministry to that effect and no correspondence/letter was received in the wildlife division of the ministry from the state government.
The Assam government in its report stated that the Beki takes the entire load of water rush during the monsoon due to collection of debris at the mouth of the rivers Manas and Hakua, resulting in drying up of many water holes along the stretch of the two rivers in the national park. This apart, the Beki has witnessed unprecedented floods, which threatens wildlife and human beings, prompting the government to undertake the project.
On the issue of mandatory clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, the State government denied such requirement and submitted that the completion of the project would directly benefit the national park as the Manas and the Hakua Rivers would be activated which would reduce the flow of water in the Beki, resulting in reduction of land erosion.