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The Hindu
The Hindu
The Hindu Bureau

Assam refinery told to pull down wall in elephant corridor


The Gauhati High Court declined to provide relief to an eastern Assam refinery that challenged an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to demolish a boundary wall of its planned township built in an elephant corridor.

Dismissing two writ petitions by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) against an eight-year-old NGT order, Justice Devashis Baruah said the public sector company was not entitled to any relief. The order was passed on February 8 and the order was made available on Friday.

In August 2016, the NGT ordered NRL to pull down the wall within a month and not to construct its proposed township. The green tribunal also asked NRL to pay ₹25 lakh to the Assam Forest Department for the “destruction of forest cover” and flattening of a hill to build a golf course, apart from directing it to go for “compensatory afforestation of 10 times the number of trees felled” to build the wall.

Acting on applications filed by Assam-based environment activist Rohit Choudhury, the NGT asked the Assam government not to allow any developmental activities within a radius of 15 km of NRL and notify the conversion of Deopahar, an elephant corridor located 15-20 km from the Kaziranga National Park, into a reserve forest.

‘Against SC order’

The proposed township falls in a no-development zone declared by the Centre in 1996 and any non-forest activity in the area would violate a Supreme Court order issued in 1996 (in a separate case), the NGT had observed.

NRL filed a review petition in the tribunal following which the Assam government told the NGT that only one hectare of the total of nine hectares on which the boundary wall was constructed was part of the Deopahar proposed reserve forest (PRF). The government also said NRL surrendered the one hectare and the wall on that portion was demolished in March 2018.

NRL filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court after the NGT dismissed its review application in August 2018, asking the court to restrain the Golaghat district administration from demolishing the entire boundary wall.

NRL received another setback when the Supreme Court dismissed its plea against the NGT orders in January 2019. The company then approached the Gauhati High Court underlining its compliance with the NGT order of 2016 and seeking to purchase the entire nine hectares from the Assam government for ₹1.76 crore.

‘Positive message’

“The court’s judgment has raised hopes for wildlife conservation in Assam. Elephants have the first right over the jungles and the demolition of the NRL wall will send a positive message,” Mr. Choudhury, one of the respondents in the High Court case, said.

“We will abide by the High Court’s order,” an NRL spokesperson said.

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