MoEF rules out dismantling of firing range in wildlife sanctuary in Assam

Status quo over Sonai Rupai firing range


Guwahati, June 1: The ministry of environment and forests has ruled out “dismantling” of the short firing range at Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district of Assam but has asked the army not to practise there until it obtains the necessary clearance.

“This is a setback to us as we wanted to dismantle the firing range. It is against the wildlife laws to have a firing range in a wildlife sanctuary,” the state chief wildlife warden, Suresh Chand, told this correspondent today. The state forest department had tried to dismantle the firing range in April this year but was prevented by the forces from doing so.

The Telegraph had published three stories in its various editions on the stalemate.

The ministry had taken up the issue after it received representations from various quarters, including the members of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, on the construction and use of the firing range behind the Lama camp inside the sanctuary.

A.K. Srivastava, inspector-general of forests (wildlife) in the ministry of environment and forests, had written to the joint secretary in the ministry of defence, Subhash Chandra, last month, asking him to inform the army authorities to obtain the necessary statutory clearances for lawful diversion of land of the wildlife sanctuary for use of the firing range.

“Till all the clearances are obtained, the firing range inside the sanctuary may not be used,” he added.

The letter stated that while the ministry appreciates the need for setting up firing ranges for training and preparedness of the security forces (as the army has been maintaining), it feels that these activities should be carried out within the ambit of law.

Gajraj Corps, stationed at Missamari, had established the short firing range on forestland inside the Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary without following the legal procedures. The troops also practised at the range, which was in gross violation of the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the orders of Supreme Court.

According to Section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, any non-forestry activity inside a wildlife sanctuary requires recommendation of the State Board for Wildlife. A Supreme Court order dated May 9, 2002 makes it mandatory for all cases involving this section to be referred to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

In addition to the recommendations of these two boards, such a case would also require final clearance from the apex court according to a November 13, 2000 order. No forest, national park or sanctuary can be de-reserved without the approval of the Supreme Court.

“It would be difficult to give clearance to non-forestry activities in a wildlife sanctuary. We have to adhere to the rules and be very strict about it,” a forest official said.

The state forest department had constituted a five-member committee in the last week of April to examine the entire matter but the report has not yet been submitted.


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