The Madras High Court lambasted the PWD and Forest department for allowing encroachers to put up solar fences in reserved forest and water spread area in Tamil Nadu’s Erode and Coimbatore districts and directed the forest department to take immediate steps to remove them.
A division bench comprising Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice G K Ilanthiraiyan passed the order on a public interest litigation filed by T Murugavel, seeking a direction to the authorities to clear encroachments and prevent encroachments in future in the reserved forest areas.
The matter relates to the lease of lands in the water spread area of the Bhavanisagar dam in Erode and Coimbatore districts to landless and poor farmers of the region by virtue of an order of the state Agriculture department dated October 18, 1967.
However, after the Forest Conservation Act came into force in 1980, forest lands could no longer be legally leased out as farming and cultivation area for non-forestry activities, the petitioner submitted.
He also alleged that the practise of farming on forest lands continued and agricultural activities in the said forest lands are carried out till date by encroachers, which is unlawful and illegal.
The petitioner further submitted though the lands were leased out to poor farmers, later cultivation was carried out by wealthy farmers and mafias.
He also alleged farmers had erected solar fences to restrict movement of animals.
The judges, after going through the status report filed by the Forest department, said, “It prima facie appears from the status report that both the Forest department as well as PWD are totally insensitive to the environment and ecological disaster happening right under their eyes and it is high time, it should be set right by effective monitoring and proper follow-up action.”
The judges also rejected arguments submitted by a senior counsel, who appeared on behalf of some of the farmers, that the solar fence was only to scare away wild animals and to protect crops.
The bench directed both the Forest and public works departments to take immediate steps to remove the solar fence and said if the officials needed police help they can approach the superintendent of police, Erode.
The bench also suo motu impleaded the collector, superintendent of police and revenue officer of Erode district as respondents for effective implementation and follow-up action and posted the case to July 25 for further hearing.
It also directed the public works department to file a status report.