“The chief secretary is hereby directed to file an affidavit and inform the bench on steps taken within four weeks. Concerned authorities will be behind the bars if the structure at Gadkhali is no demolished by December 11. The state may move the Supreme Court if it so desires,” the bench comprising Justice Pratap Ray and Prof P C Mishra observed.
The NGT took suo motu cognizance of degradation in the Sundarbans and appointed environment activist Subhas Datta as amicus curiae in the matter. Datta toured the mangrove forest and submitted a detailed affidavit with 51 photographs to the bench. In his affidavit, the green activist submitted that all acts relating to conservation of the environment and forests have been flouted by the state government in the Sundarbans.
“In Sajnekhali, a tourist hub is being constructed barely 50 metres from where crocodiles lay their eggs. At Jharkhali, nearly 10 tourist cottages have been constructed inside an enclosure known as a ‘Tiger Rescue Centre’. Eco-conservation camps at Sundarkathi and Bonny Camp have also been made accessible to tourists. At Chulkati, a ‘Protection Camp’ has been built. There is a watchtower inside. At the base of this tower, there are cottages meant for tourists. A large sweet water pond has been dug outside the perimeter. Tourists are encouraged to climb the tower and watch tigers and other wildlife as they come to the pond to drink. The government has embarked on a mission of state-run vandalism. The entire character of the land and water bodies is being changed. Before long the geography of the Sundarbans will be history. Our children will read about the Sundarbans in history books,” Datta submitted before the bench.
Datta also submitted how sand is being mined from the Matla River that may change its course and damage the bio-diversity of the area. The chief secretary was then directed to file an affidavit on this within four weeks. The district magistrate and superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas have also been directed to file an affidavit on the number of hotels and resorts in the Sundarbans within four weeks, stating whether they are authorized or not.