Saturday, October 10, 2009

Forest dept files offence report after illegal road comes up at Datar shrine

Forest dept files offence report after illegal road comes up at Datar shrine
Indian Express

In violation of forest law, a cement concrete road has been built parallel to the approach to the shrine at Datar Mountain on the outskirts of Junagadh.

A forest offence report (FOR) has been filed in this regard against an illegal occupant of the shrine and his associates. The deputy conservator of forest (Girnar range) has ordered an inquiry into the matter, although no arrests have been made so far.

According to the forest officials, the FOR was registered on Thursday against four accused including Mahant Vithalbhai and his three associates under Rule 29 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The mahant was also found involved in other serious offences like tree felling and causing damage to the environment and the sanctuary area.

Anita Karan, Deputy Conservator of Forest (Girnar range), confirmed the incident and said: "Some construction of a cement concrete road has been noticed on a narrow stretch parallel to the steps en route to the Datar shrine. We have registered an FOR in this regard apart from instituting an inquiry against the on-duty forest staff."

She added: "The accused had been found indulging in such activities in the past too. They (the shrine occupants) are trying to build a road, thereby disturbing wildlife and damaging the forest. Whenever such activities surface, we prevent them, but the problem is long pending."

When asked about the use of camels for carrying goods to the shrine inside the sanctuary, Karan said, "It is illegal and I am looking into the matter."

According to sources, the mahant has been using half a dozen camels to transport construction material. The animals have been reportedly spotted at the Willingdon Dam at the foot of the Datar Mountain.

A forest official refusing to be named said that a 300-metre stretch of the three kilometer long road has been built recently. "The road has been built between Sakkarmai Point and Chithadiya Pir shrine en route to the Datar shrine," he said. The official also alleged that a few influential people have been shielding the accused.

The issue
The Datar shrine, located on the eponymous mountain peak falls within the Girnar sanctuary area. It is managed by the district administration: the district collector is the chairman of the shrine, while the mamlatdar administers it.

Two communities have been waging a 19-year-long court battle over the control of the shrine. Three years ago, a Junagadh court had passed an order to appoint a new bhandari of the shrine and evict the illegal occupants. But with no further action in this regard, the matter is pending.

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