'Tainted' greens in Chandigarh

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Chandigarh:Chandigarh - a golf crazy city that already has an 18-hole golf course plus a golf range - now has another new international standard golf resort in its vicinity. But in a bid to cash in on the demand for golf courses, laws that protect forests including the 1996 landmark Supreme Court ruling are being bent or simply overlooked. Forest Hill resort is a beautiful 9-hole golf course built to US golfing standards. Over 150 acres of land has recently come up in the Karoran village in the vicinity of Chandigarh. There are plans to add another 9 holes to the course and a 5-star hotel to the resort over a 500-acre area, making it a complete holiday destination. The only hitch is that all 150 acres of it is illegal - built in violation of the Indian Forest Act and the Forest Conservation Act. H S Gujral, Chief Conservator of Forest, Punjab, said, "Permission from the Government of India is statutorily required to be taken before any forest land can be diverted for non-forest purposes. In this case that permission has not only not been taken, it has specifically been refused by the Government." The owners were levelling the forest and hills in the area to build their resort even before a decision was taken on their application. At present, four cases are pending against them in the lower court. But the owners, who have already inaugurated the resort and have enrolled more than 70 members, say that the Indian Forest Act is not applicable in their case. Lt. Col. Sandhu, owner of Forest Hill Resort, contended, "We've not violated any law because agricultural land doesn't fall in the purview. There are court judgements and people have misunderstandings. We have, in fact, strengthened the flora and fauna of this place. We've planted more than one lakh trees and thick grassing to check soil erosion." The 1996 Supreme Court ruling had made it very clear that even if the land is being used for agriculture but has been notified as forest area in government records, which is the case here, it will be treated as forest area. But clearly, altering the ecology by simply ignoring weak forest laws if one has the necessary clout is quite easy.

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