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The Hindu
The Hindu
Satyasundar Barik

NGT issues notice to Odisha government over cottage construction atop its highest peak

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Odisha government to furnish a reply on its ongoing construction of cottages atop Deomali, which is considered the highest mountain peak in the State.

The Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO), a Cuttack-based environmental pressure group, had moved eastern zone bench of NGT alleging that the project spread over 10.4 hectares or 26 acres of forestland required prior approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the construction was in violation of the Act.

Moreover, there had been no involvement of the local community or indigenous knowledge of making the house and household articles, which was also a violation of the Ministry of Environment, Forest Climate Change’s policy for eco-tourism in forest and wildlife areas, the WSO pointed out. The NGT asked the government to respond to allegation within four weeks.

Deomali mountain peak attracts thousands of tourists from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for its breathtaking natural scenery amidst floating cloud that can be seen from the height. Earlier, a few watchtowers had constructed enabling tourists to spend some time atop Deomali.

In its petition, the WSO said Deomali, home to endemic species of flora and fauna, is a forestland known as Deomali Reserve Forest.

“The forest department is constructing cottages in Deomali Hilltop under Pottangi Block with all-weather cement fibre boards. Ten cottages for night stay of tourists have been constructed with provisions of a dining hall and two dormitories,” says the petition. The forest department was planting about 1,000 tropical pine saplings brought from Assam for beautification of the landscape, it says.

The Deomali Project has been included under the Centre’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme for the development of infrastructure to boost inflow of tourists.

The WSO also informed NGT that parking area, pathway with nature trail leading to Deomali peak, grand entrance gate with security cabin and ticket counter, opening of dining with kitchen, store and pantry, driver’s and staff dormitory, laundry and wash and reception, office with lounge and toilet were also proposed, apart from 10 cottages.

NGT’s Judicial Member Amit Sthalekar and Expert Member Arun Kumar Verma found merit in the petition. Koraput district administration and State Biodiversity Board has also been asked to respond to the notice.

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