National Green Tribunal
The National Green Tribunal, New Delhi | Manisha Mondal/ThePrint
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Former Uttarakhand DGP Sidhu plans to appeal the NGT judgment against him, while forest officer Pandey claims vindication after years of ‘harassment’.

New Delhi: Last week, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed a former director-general of police of Uttarakhand to pay over Rs 46 lakh as damages for illegally felling 25 trees.

It was seen as a significant victory for the state’s forest department against the police department after a five-year-long high-profile battle.

The police department claimed it was a case of some forest officers misusing their powers to grab forest land. But the forest department alleged the state’s former top cop, B.S. Sidhu, had used all his might to illegally purchase the land which comes under the forest reserve area, and harassed anyone – including forest officers – who came in his way.

Now, Sidhu is still claiming that he was framed by forest officers, and is considering challenging the NGT judgment.

The case, which made national headlines, had also been acknowledged by then union environment minister Prakash Javadekar in the Rajya Sabha.

Years of ‘harassment’

At the time the high-profile case was registered by Dheeraj Pandey, then divisional forest officer of Mussoorie, Sidhu had the entire police machinery in the state under his control. This made the case an uphill task, Pandey claimed.

“It was back in 2013 that I first got information of this case, that some sal trees have been felled illegally in an area under the forest reserve,” Pandey, a 2004-batch Uttarakhand-cadre Indian Forest Service officer, told ThePrint.

“Soon when investigations began, we realised that the illegal purchase has been made by the sitting DGP. Plus, the person from whom he had claimed to buy the land had died in 1982…it was an obvious case of impersonation. From then on, we knew we had to tread cautiously,” he said.

Also read: Western UP river pollution – NGT tells industries to foot medical bill for the sick

Yet, Pandey, after consultation with his senior officers, went ahead and registered a case against DGP Sidhu for purchasing the reserve forest land along with 250 sal trees, and that too allegedly without the necessary permissions under the law.

What followed, alleges Pandey, was a tale of harassment – with at least two FIRs filed against him and his subordinate staff.

“They would get locals to depose against us, and file false cross-FIRs against us for trying to grab the land so as to derive economic benefits out of it,” he alleged.

“They were trying to create the impression that the forest department was trying to encroach on his land…but the high court quashed those FIRs.”

Asked if he had ever thought of withdrawing the case, Pandey said “absolutely not”. His only worry, he said, was to take the case to its logical conclusion. “Not doing my job would have amounted to dereliction of my duty as an officer,” Pandey, who is now posted as the additional secretary, forest and environment in the Uttarakhand government, said.

Also read: NGT shrinks in size as friction with government grows, delays appointments

‘A fishy, anonymous complaint’

In the meantime, a local association moved the NGT in this regard, and Pandey was made a respondent in the case – which Sidhu feels was no coincidence.

“An anonymous complaint was made to the NGT, and it had details of the internal communication of the government. How would a group of citizens have access to all those documents? Doesn’t that seem fishy?” Sidhu, who believes Pandey was behind the application, told ThePrint.

In its 103-page judgment, the NGT has said that “the bare perusal of the records submitted along with the affidavit, makes it apparent that a deliberate and willful attempt was made by Mr B.S. Sidhu to grab the reserve forest land, but it was owing to timely efforts made by the forest officers that his malafide designs to encroach upon the reserve forest land had failed”.’

However, Sidhu, who does not rule out challenging the NGT judgment, argues that the forest department, which routinely fells trees in the area, has a modus operandi of framing anyone – including the state’s top cop – for calling them out.

“I guess I will challenge the NGT judgment because something like this will only embolden them,” Sidhu, a 1979 batch IPS officer who retired in 2016, said.

While forest officers across the country have welcomed the NGT judgment, for Sidhu, it was the result of years of manipulation of the system by a “dishonest officer”.

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