Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Feb 18:
Wildlife activist and secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO) Dr Biswajit Mohanty has urged the state government to forthwith withdraw its November 2013 circular which authorises Revenue officials to treat forest land as non-forest land if the classification has been changed according to a state revenue law.
Terming it as a direct violation of the Forest( Conservation) Act, 1980 and of the Supreme Court’s order in the TN Godhavarman PIL case (1996), Mohanty has questioned the validity of the circular.
In a press release, Dr Mohanty said, “The OLR Act vests powers with the revenue officers to effect change in the classification or Kissam of any land after following certain procedures and rules. However these powers were abrogated after 25.10.1980 when the national Act came into force.
” According to the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980, no forest land can be diverted for non forest use until approval of the Central Government is obtained,” he said.
Quoting the Supreme Court’s order of 12 December, 1996 in the T.N. Godavarman PIL where it said “forest” shall include all lands which are classified as “forest” in any government record, Mohanty said the phrase ‘any government record’ obviously included Revenue records.
” This legal restriction is now sought to be side stepped by the latest circular from the Revenue Department issued by Additional Chief Secretary Dr. Tara Dutt,” Mohanty said.
It is to be noted that Odisha has vast tracts of revenue forests or forests under the control of the Revenue Department also known as DLC forest land, Khesra, Gramya Jungle, etc. Of the total area of 58,136 sq.kms of Forest area in the state, 31,786 sq. kms or nearly 55% is under the control of Revenue Department.
” There will be catastrophic impact of this circular as vast areas will now be freely diverted without any clearance process if the government orders are followed. There will be massive impacts on wildlife as there will not be any bar on diversion and no forest officer will be able to give his views on the effects on local wildlife if such diversion is carried out,” he said.
Dr Mohanty has warned the state government that unless the circular is withdrawn, WSO will be forced to file contempt of court charges against the Government of Odisha before the Supreme Court of India.