Spare Rajaji forests from Kumbh Mela 2021....

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It has come to our notice that the Uttarakhand forest department has proposed to give a total of 778 hectares of reserve forest land from Rajaji National Park and forest divisions of Haridwar, Narendra Nagar, and Dehradun for a period of nine months to Kumbh Mela Committee. The land will be given for temporary construction works to accommodate scores of pilgrims and seers that are expected to come for Maha Kumbh 2021.

Notably, the forest department has sought an approximate amount of Rs 13.635 crore from the Kumbh Mela Committee for the land. The amount will be used to ensure that the land remains usable for flora and fauna and is well protected.
The land which would be given away for Kumbh Mela includes that of Shivalik forests, which has a rich biodiversity and has a significant population of elephants, leopards, and tigers. The proposal states that the temporary land transfer would begin from September this year so that construction activities can be undertaken on time for the mega festival that is expected to draw crores of pilgrims.

However, the decision violates the advisory (dated January 10, 2020) of ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF) which states that “for non-forest activities, forest land can be given only for a duration of 15 days and it doesn’t include protected forest land”.

The state government though has sought exemption from this clause saying that the Kumbh Mela is a significant festival and this may be considered an exceptional case. A copy of a letter (dated April 21, 2020) from Subhash Chandra, additional secretary of Uttarakhand government to MoEF, reads, “From Rajaji National Park and other forest divisions, around 778 hectares of forest land for non-forest activities from September 1, 2020 to 31st May, 2021 has been sought by Kumbh Mela Committee for around nine months.” The letter, which seeks clearance to give approval for the same under Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, further reads, “Kumbh Mela is a significant festival as per Hindu tradition and therefore, it may be considered as an exceptional case and be given approval.”

This petition is put forward to cancel any such move by any govt/department of Govt of India which will be detrimental for already very sensitive ecosystem of Rajaji National Park, which is a home to many species of endangered wildlife, birds, reptiles and sensitive forests. These forests feed many rivers and water streams, maintain ground water reserves and provide oxygen. They also play important role in mitigating pollution and maintaining environmental temperature in this Ganga valley. Any human activity in forests will lead to felling of trees, tempering of natural topography, disturbing underground water sources, irreversible pollution through human waste, plastic and other solid wastes.

It is also noteworthy that the whole world is fighting the Novel Coronavirus pandamic for last many months. And there is no cure as of now. In view of this widespread pandamic, almost all congregations across the world are being cancelled to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the heads of almost all akhadas in Haridwar have stopped preparations of Maha Kumbh amid the coronavirus scare.

Therefore, it is requested that any such move to acquire forest cover of RNP for Kumbh activities be immediately cancelled and withdrawn; and the Kumbh mela, if at all organised as low key affair, should be organised in already available areas in and around Haridwar river beds and outside RNP.