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Forest officials misled MoEF team visiting, says petitioner

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Hassan: K.N. Somashekhar, the state convener of Western Ghats Samrakshana Horata Vedike, has alleged that Hassan Forest Department officials misled the team of officers from the Ministry of Environment and Forest, who visited the Yettinahole project sites in Sakaleshpur taluk as per the direction of the National Green Tribunal. The forest officers had an understanding with the Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL), the project implementing agency, and tried to hush-up the mass tree cutting done by the KNNL in the Western Ghats, said Mr. Somashekhar in a press conference here on Thursday. He had moved the NGT against the project.

The NGT in its August 29, 2016 order had directed the KNNL to take up compensatory afforestation at the rate of 10 saplings for each tree cut for the project. “The compensatory afforestation has not been done properly. The Forest Department officials showed the plantation they did in Belur taluk way back in 2015. We have records to show that the KNNL has not taken up compensatory afforestation as per the NGT orders. However, the Forest Department officers are supporting the KNNL to cover up its misdeeds,” he said.

During the three-day field visit, the MoEF team visited 20 places. As per the NGT’s direction, the team should have taken the petitioners along. “Despite our repeated demands, the officers concerned did not share any information about permission granted for tree cut or the number of trees cut. Wherever we went, we could notice that trees were cut in large numbers and the place has been covered such that the visiting MoEF team do not notice it,” he said.

CBI and ED

Prince Issac, the advocate for Somashekhar in NGT, said as per the State Government’s statement before the tribunal 6,000 trees were cut in the project sites. However, during the visit, the Forest Department officers gave some figures, according to which a number of trees cut so far are more than 9,000. “We have documented these evidence and will present them before the NGT in the next hearing. The NGT’s previous orders have been violated repeatedly,” he said.

Further, Mr. Somashekhar, terming the whole Yettinahole project a scam, said he would file complaints with the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department against the officers of KNNL and others engaged in the execution of the controversial project.

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