Why the NGT ban on restaurants and bars in the forts of Jaipur is a red flag

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) closed some of the tourism-related activities at the popular Amer and Nahargarh forts in Jaipur from December 1. While the old forts remain open to visitors, the restaurants, bar, and sound and light programs have been discontinued. on the grounds that the two sites are part of a reserve forest and are part of the Nahargarh wildlife reserve. The state government said it had warned another popular fort, Jaigarh, to shut down all non-logging activities, but the royalty of Jaipur, who owned the fort, said this fell outside the NGT ordinance.

The order has stunned the government as it can be extended to end non-forest tourism activities in Amer as well. In recent years, there has been a push to organize nightly entertainment activities in protected monuments and although there have been concerns about the violation of archaeological standards, no one has bothered to violate the Law on Archeology. much stricter forests.

Nahargarh Fort is an 18th century fort located in the Aravalli Hills, 15 km from Jaipur. It is controlled by the Archaeological Department of Rajasthan, as is the 16th century Amer Fort, the most visited monument in Rajasthan, in the foothills. On the same uphill stretch is the fort of Jaigarh, also from the 18th century.

In 1961, the government declared Nahargarh a classified forest and in 1980, 52.4 km² of it was set aside as a wildlife sanctuary. There is an ongoing case before the Rajasthan HC which calls into question the non-forestry activities around Amer Fort. There were no special rights created for forts to operate such activities in a forest area, although the right of way was granted in some cases for residential buildings, hospitals, institutions, etc.

The government moved the Supreme Court, which refused to stay the NGT’s order and instead asked the state why it had to serve beer and put on sound and light shows in a reserved forest. Now the state government is concerned that the order will spread to a larger area covering almost the entire town of Amer. He has two options before him: either transfer the management of the Amer and Nahargarh forts from the archaeological department to the forestry department and let him decide which forest-related activities can be authorized. Or, take the drastic decision to denote the forts in the forest area and compensate the forest service in land and money, a task that is time consuming and requires the authorization of the Center.

The NGT, with a PIL from activist Rajendra Tiwari who heads a forest and environmental protection NGO, ordered on October 4 that no non-forest activities be allowed in the forest reserve and sanctuary of Nahargarh from December 1st. nightly parties, including weddings and fireworks, were frequently held in the forts. The issue of the ban is so important that following the order, Chief Secretary Niranjan Arya had to coordinate with various departments to craft a strong response to challenge the NGT order.

The forestry department, however, refused to be a party to the Supreme Court. Sources claim that forestry department officials have said that having taken a stand against non-forestry activities before the NGT, it cannot change it in the Supreme Court. Yet, under pressure, he gave a response that is now part of the state’s appeal to the Supreme Court that certain activities can be carried out with his permission, without specifying the activities.

Tiwari points out that over the years the forestry department has failed to defend its rights and that no money has been spent on improving infrastructure such as the road to Nahargarh Fort. “Entrance to a classified forest and in particular to a sanctuary is highly regulated against a fee,” Tiwari said, adding that the money thus collected must be spent for the development of the area. But other departments have made money carrying out various non-forestry activities, he says.

Forestry officials say that in the name of tourism and commercial activities, they are gagged by various departments and the government. “We know a lot of wrong has happened, but other than protecting ourselves by issuing advisories every now and then, there’s not much we can do,” says a senior forestry officer. However, he said it was a forestry officer’s report that became the basis for the NGT order.

The NGT relied on the pragmatic report submitted by the forestry department. “The area of ​​the fort is classified forest under the provisions of the Rajasthan Forest Act, 1953, and due to commercial activities the natural habitat of animals and plants is being destroyed. Therefore, if no strict measures are taken to save the fauna, it will not be long in appearing on the list of extinct species ”, indicates the report of the forestry department submitted to the NGT.

The Forestry Department said there was no response to a notice sent to the Archeology Department in May 2019. The Forestry Department also said electrical connections have been provided to run restaurants without sound. authorization, in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980.

The NGT asked the forest service to install noise barriers in the appropriate places to mitigate the impact of vehicles entering forts and museums. “The forest service will also regulate the number of vehicles and parking spaces. The Forestry Department may also undertake and regulate other activities which may be compatible with the purpose of the Wildlife Law and the FC Law in the notified forest and wildlife area, including the fort, ”the report says. order of the NGT.

The departments of archeology, tourism and the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation had argued their case before the NGT. The archeology department said the fort belonged to it and the RTDC and the tourism department insisted they provided restaurants and other facilities for a long time, some for four decades. But NGT found no basis for its counterclaims. It will be necessary to see if the supreme court, which takes up the case next month, finds a reason to grant relaxations.

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