Forest Dept addresses allegations of ignoring illegal quarrying and sand mining
Gangtok, 16 Feb [IPR]: The Forest and Environment Department, Government of Sikkim, convened a press conference today to clarify on issues which have been circulating in public domain through various media over the past few months. The press conference was addressed by Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, cum PCCF, ML Srivastava in the presence of senior officers of the Department, CCF (T/HQ),NW Tamang, CF (T),Karma Legshey, CF (WF), Udai Gurung and Director (Env& SC, Planning), BBGurung.
At the outset, ACS-cum-PCCF, ML Srivastava explained that the objective of holding the press conference was to inform all about various initiatives undertaken by the Forest Department for environmental conservation and protection and to clarify facts related to different issues concerned with the Forest Department that have been in circulation recently.
The ACS said that the State Government is committed towards balancing development and conservation. It is evident from the fact that the State of Sikkim was adjudged best among the small States in the country for environment and law and order in the recent survey of state of States by India Today during December 2021.
Thereafter, the ACS detailed the response of the Forest and Environment Department on the issues being discussed in public domain.
On the issue of illegal quarrying and mining of sand, the ACS explained that sand/stone/stone aggregate/loose boulders deposited along the riverbeds during monsoon flooding are being collected seasonally through manual means. The mechanical collection of minor minerals is not allowed and only in some feasible locations where permission has been granted by the Forest and Environment Department for loading the minor minerals into transportation vehicles.
Further, he informed that the Forest and Environment Department has been taking strict action against the defaulters/vehicles/machineries involved in any illegal means of collection and transportation as per the prescribed Rules and Act and compensation are being levied. He informed that in a period of two years, the Department has collected a compensation of Rs.64 lakhs against illegal use of JCB and other heavy vehicles along river beds.
Speaking on the issue of reports of rise in pollution level of river water in Sikkim, the Additional Chief Secretary clarified that the rivers of Sikkim have BOD less than 3mg/l. The four river stretches in Sikkim i.e. Maneykhola (Adampool to Burtuk stretch); Rangit River (NHPC damsite to Triveni); Ranichu (Namli to Singtam) and Teesta ( Melli to Chungthang) was under priority V of least polluted river stretches which due to various interventions has attained the bathing quality as prescribed by the CPCB. Further, the government has also constituted the River Rejuvenation Committee which is multi sectoral comprising representatives from F&ED, PHED, UDD, C&I, SPCB-Sikkim for protection of all water bodies in the State.
On the issue of decrease in forest cover, he stated that as per the State Forest Report, 2021 the present forest of Sikkim is 47.08% and shows decrease in forest cover by 1.46SqKm which may be attributed to natural calamities, felling of trees and developmental activities. However, this change in forest cover is meagre w.r.t. ISFR 2019.
In Sikkim, decrease in the forest cover may be mainly attributed to forest diversion cases pertaining to national security due to strategic location and developmental activities like road connectivity and power projects.
The present government is following all the existing environmental friendly policies in letter and spirit. Due to green initiatives like ‘A Day for Mother Earth’and successful mass involvement, the Tree outside Forest (ToF) has increased by 3SqKm as per SFR, 2021. School eco-clubs are also encouraged to actively participate in all the environmental activities in the State.
On the issue of Human- Wildlife Conflict Management, the ACS said that the State Government has taken serious note of human-wildlife conflict in the State and has taken steps to withdraw the Wildlife Protection Act (Amendment bill) 2018 in the recently concluded State Legislative Assembly. The present government has also raised compensation rates in case of human injury and death from Rs.25,000 to Rs.50,000 in case of simple human injury; from Rs.1,00,000 to Rs.2,00,000 for grievous human injury and from Rs.4 lakh to Rs.6 lakh for human casualty.
Workshop involving multi sectoral representation has also been organized by the Forest and Environment Department on 15/02/2022 for effective formulation of Standard Operating Procedure for mitigating human-wildlife conflict
On the issue of alleged rampant tree felling in the state, the Additional Chief Secretary stated that as per the prescriptions of approved Working Plan, silvicultural thinning is regularly done for management of forest. Presently, in some of the areas like Rayong-Ravangla, dhuppi trees (Cryptomeria japonica) are being thinned as per the prescription in the approved working plan of the Forest and Environment Department. It is stated here that there is no rampant felling of trees in the state of Sikkim. Further, trees being removed are to the barest minimum for development activities as per the requisite approval and clearances. These shall be compensated by taking up compensatory afforestation as per approved management plans.
On Cross-Sectoral Monitoring, the ACS informed that the Head Office is taking due notice of cases of any forest offences/ violations/ illegalities and directions are being given for conducting impartial cross-sectoral monitoring and taking due actions.
During the press conference, the Additional Chief Secretary cum PCCF enumerated some of the recent awards and accolades received by the State Government in the forest and environment sector.
The ACS and senior officers of the Department also responded to questions by the media.