KOLHAPUR: The Supreme Court has rejected the windmill owners’ plea seeking relief from Rs 35 crore fine imposed by Maharashtra government for installing structures in Koyna wildlife sanctuary, a part of the Sahyadri tiger reserve.
The apex court in its order on January 16, a copy of which is with TOI, has allowed three months period for windmill and resort owners to deposit the fine with the state government. Karad-based environmentalist Nana Khamkar had complained in 2010 that windmills and resorts set up in the sanctuary should be treated as ‘encroachments’.
Khamkar, an executive council member of the environmental NGO Creative Nature Friends, had mentioned that 205 windmills and nine resorts were located in the sensitive forest areas. He argued that windmills and resorts were constructed in the Koyna Sanctuary spread over 423.55 sq km, which is a protected area and notified under Section 18 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The state government decided to protect the energy generation units and resorts by delimiting them from the forest areas.
The then principal secretary of forest department, Pravin Pardeshi, last year made a formula to regularize these structures. According to the formula, windmills and resorts established before 2000 will have to pay Rs 8 lakh per hectare, while those that were set up after 2000 have to pay Rs 16 lakh per hectare as a fine. The total amount is of Rs 35 crore.
Maharashtra government filed an affidavit to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) stating that a suggestion to collect Rs 35 crore from the property owners had been made. The CEC is a statutory body constituted by the SC in 2002 to monitors environment issues and referring these to the SC. After receiving the affidavit, CEC submitted its report to the SC in which collection of fine was upheld.
The Indian Wind Energy Association had filed an interlocutory application before SC in January 2014 against CEC report regarding the issue. Coram comprising of Chief Justice H L Dattu, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel mentioned in the order that the court did not see any good ground to interfere with the report of the CEC.
“We expect the government will collect the amount from the property owners and will utilize it for the protection and conservation of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. Government has to create guidelines for the utilization of this amount. Forest department must remove all the other illegal properties from the protected areas and must not allow further encroachment,” Khamkar said.
M M Panditrao, divisional forest officer of Koyna, said that the decision of utilization of funds will be taken at the state level. “The forest department will decide how to use the amount for the development of STR region. We will receive the guidelines soon,” he added.
Nature lovers while welcoming the order have warned that further degradation of the forest will lead to massive destruction.
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