Gurugram: The Faridabad forest department has been instructed by the district administration to take steps for vacating stay orders against demolition drives which have been obtained, from lower courts, by squatters on protected forest land. Officials said that any stay from lower courts could not supersede the Supreme Court’s clear instructions to protect the land notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, which is protected under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
“We have been attempting to clear all such encroachments. At a recent meeting, I have told the forest department to take legal action against squatters who have managed to obtain stay orders from lower courts. About 16 or 17 such encroachments have been identified for initial action. The forest department will be drafting legal responses to get the stays vacated before we can proceed with demolition drives,” said Yashpal Yadav, deputy commissioner, Faridabad.
Last month, Faridabad had conducted partial demolition drives against 12 illegal structures in Ankhir village, which were found to be in violation of environmental laws. At the time, the forest department had noted the presence of at least 92 encroachments across the district, including resorts, banquet halls, sports academies and farmhouses. Activists and environmentalists believe this number to be significantly higher.
After reiterating its position on PLPA areas in its Kant Enclave judgement from September 2018 (in which a residential housing complex in Surajkund was ordered to be demolished), the Supreme Court had later ordered similar action against other such encroachments in Faridabad. However, stay orders from lower courts had been brought up as a reason why encroachments were not being demolished.
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court last year, the then district forest officer (DFO) Suresh Punia had written, “Many persons in their replies have stated that they have got relief to continue their business or stay orders from various courts including this Hon’ble Court... the replies received from these persons required critical examination from legal point of view which requires reasonable time.” Punia has since been transferred from this post.
However, Yadav clarified that no stays will be entertained going forward. “The Supreme Court’s instructions are quite clear. Those occupying forest land in violation of the law will be evicted.”
A new DFO is expected to take charge on Wednesday, department officials said on Monday.