The Uttarakhand Forest Department is preparing to transfer vast stretches of vacant land under the Rajaji Tiger Reserve and the Narendra Nagar Forest division temporarily to the Kumbh Mela Samiti to create facilities for devotees, causing considerable concern among environment and wildlife activists.
A proposal has been moved to the Centre, seeking permission to transfer 778 hectares of land to the Kumbh Mela Samiti for nine months to create facilities of temporary nature for devotees, including camps and parking lots, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (APCCF) DJK Sharma told PTI.
"Around 10 crore devotees are expected to visit the Kumbh Mela, likely to start in January next year, and creating facilities for them is our responsibility. So, we have moved the proposal to the Ministry of Forest and Environment, seeking its clearance for temporary transfer of the land to the Kumbh Mela Samiti," he said.
"Though the existing rules permit competent authorities of the state Forest Department to transfer the land for temporary use for 15 days, the MoEF's permission is needed as we intend to transfer the land to the Mela Samiti for a period of nine months, starting September 1 to May 31, the official said.
However, environment and wildlife activists are vehemently opposing the proposal on the grounds that it is in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act 1980.
That apart, the creation of facilities for devotees visiting the vast religious congregation will destroy the natural habitats of wildlife besides causing great noise pollution and dumping of food and plastic waste in the area, they said.
"Authorities don't bother about the environment and the animal world. Earning revenue is their only agenda. The damage to the environment caused by the one-month kanwar mela every year is not hidden from anyone. Kumbh is organised on a much bigger scale, hence the damage too is bound to be much bigger," young environmentalist from Rishikesh, Ridhima Pandey, said.
Increased human activity will destroy the natural habitats of animals in Rajaji, which has a significant population of tigers, she added.
Environmental scientist Ashok Kumar Aggarwal said the transfer of Rajaji land to the Mela Samiti for temporary work will cause irreparable damage to the rich bio-diversity and wildlife wealth at the tiger reserve.
On the concerns raised by the activists, the APCCF said only low vegetation areas of the RTR and the Narendra Nagar Forest division are proposed for temporary transfer to the Mela Samiti which will not involve felling of trees or cutting off green cover.
"The areas we propose to temporarily transfer to the Mela Samiti are not thickly forested. So there will be no felling of trees and clearing of forests as being feared. The mandatory wildlife mitigation measures will also be taken to address the concerns of environment and wildlife activists," Sharma said.
Since the venue of the Kumbh Mela cannot be shifted out of Haridwar, facilities for devotees have to be created in adjoining areas only, he said, adding Kumbh melas have also been held in the past and adjustments have always been made without harming the environment to create facilities for the convenience of the devotees.
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