Forest Dept faces CEC wrath

Officials allowed a private resort to set up illegal fishing resort

The Central Empowerment Committee (CEC) set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests will on Tuesday look into a complaint against the Bush Betta Wildlife Adventure Resort (BBWAR) that the camp which caters to anglers endangers the mahseer, a very large fish found in Cauvery, that has been virtually hunted out of existence.

The CEC has received the complaint against the State Forest Department which has allowed the fishing camp to come within the Cauvery wildlife sanctuary, by a wildlife enthusiast and city-based technocrat, T G Ramesh who has sought the closure of the resort and action against the colluding officials.

The case is the second time that the Forest Department has come under the scanner of the CEC, the first time after allowing illegal mining in Bellary. The resort, owned by Saad Bin Jung, who, in his website and a book describes himself as Nawaabzade Saad Bin Jung, grandson of the Maharaja of Bhopal and a relative of Nawab of Pataudi, has been accorded ‘exclusive rights’ of a six-k.m. stretch of Cauvery from Mekedaatu up to Tamil Nadu.

The lease was granted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Wildlife Warden in Feb 27, 2007, allowing BBWAR angling and camping facility and boating on the river cauvery, in violation of norms. The agreement has been signed between then PCCF and 'Nawabzade Saad Bin Jung'. Deccan Herald is in possession of the agreement copy signed under Section 28 of Wildlife Protection (WP) Act, 1972 which says "It is just a renewal of the project." It also allows construction of roads, bridges, buildings and fences as necessary for the purpose of such sanctuary.

Though the permission does not include construction of commercial tourist lodges and boarding facilities inside the sanctuary, the resort owner's website - as submitted by the complainant - shows the resort offers boarding and lodging facility. When the matter was brought to the notice of the department, the PCCF in his reply on Aug 14, 2009, denied any such activities.

"No activities such as setting of fire and no kindling of fire have been permitted. No violation of Sec 30 of WP Act neither the construction of commercial tourist lodge hotels has been permitted."

The agreement, under which the resort pays a security deposit of Rs 1.25 lakh and Rs 50,000 a year for 10 years, is illegal as the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) has not approved it. The permission to the resort amounts to aiding teasing, baiting and hunting of wildlife, which is illegal and is a violation of order by the Supreme Court and National Board of Wildlife.

On the allegations of permitting baiting and teasing - a violation of Section 27 (4) - the PCCF says: "No fishing activities have been permitted. Manual angling of fish, catch of fish and release the same in the river at the same place does not amount to fishing. It is an activity to create intimacy and awareness."

After the CEC pulled up the Forest Department in earlier hearing, the PCCF wildlife seemed to have changed his statement on Dec 14, 2009, he says, "The then chief wildlife warden permitted this resort for construction of temporary facilities like camping and allowed certain activities including angling of mahseer.

But no agreement was signed between PCCF/DCF but the operation from the resort have continued. On June 25, 2009 a case was registered against three employees of Bush Betta.”

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