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| Last Updated:17/03/2020

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Green tribunal stays tree-cutting in eco-sensitive Western Ghats

MUMBAI: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has stayed the further cutting of trees and called for a halt on illegal mining on a 32-acre plot of land in the eco-sensitive Western Ghats that was stripped of over 7,000 trees for a toll booth. TOI had reported about deforestation of this zone earlier this month in a front-page report. If constructed, the toll booth will involve flattening of two hills on either side of a stretch of road along the Mumbai-Goa highway. 

Saiprasad Kalyankar, an environmentalist from Sindhudurg who has been battling the deforestation of this zone, had filed a complaint with the NGT, which included TOI's investigation on the matter. The Pune bench of the NGT passed an order on Monday directing the Maharashtra government and a number of government authorities, including the regional transport office and forest officer, to maintain status quo. The order prevented them from undertaking "any activity by themselves or through any agency for the purpose of illegal mining or cutting of any more trees in the area of the land in question... " 

The deforestation occurred within a matter of weeks between December 2013 and January 2014 in Banda village, which is on the list of eco-sensitive regions declared by the ministry of environment and forests. However , the tree authority of the Sawantwadi forest department issued a circular in December stating that no part of Sindhudurg was ecologically sensitive. But now the same tree authority has complained against the state's checkpost authority , which was given permission to cut 1,279 trees but had ended up cutting an additional 5,429 trees. 

While a cursory glance at a map shows that the area is unsuitable for a toll booth as several roads from Goa to Maharashtra bypass the spot, the region is very rich in minerals. 

Villagers battling the land acquisition in the HC have alleged that mining, and not a toll booth is the reason for the acquisition. TOIpicked up pieces of rock from the hillside where the trees were cut and had them analyzed in Mumbai by environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali. The analysis, using a Niton Portable XRay Spectrometer, found that 90% of virtually every rock comprised iron oxide, equivalent to the highest grade of iron ore that India exports. The one piece of rock with lower levels of iron was high in manganese, which is eight times more valuable than iron. 

The Times of India (25-02-2014)