Coming straight to the nub of the matter, it has to be said right at the outset that, “Pavan paani dharati aakas ghar mandar har bani”, (Air, water, earth and sky are God’s home and temple) as was very rightly quoted by the Uttarakhand High Court from Sikh’s religious scripture Guru Granth Sahib in the landmark case titled Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyal Sanrakshan Samiti v State of Uttarakhand & others in Writ Petition (PIL) No. 123 of 2014 dated August 21, 2018 as it directed against free movement of tourists in the alpine meadows in Garhwal region of district Chamoli in Uttarakhand while ordering only local shepherds to graze their cattle there. A Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Acting Chief Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh also directed removal of all encroachment besides all plastic material strewn over the area. The Bench said so with consummate ease while disposing of a PIL that was moved by the Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyal Sanrakshan Samiti for conservation and preservation of Bugyal (alpine meadows) situated below the area of Roopkund in Chamoli district.
Needless to say, the petitioner had also sought a direction to the Forest Department to remove permanent structure/construction of fibre huts constructed in the Bugyals’ area and also to stop the commercial grazing there. It is to be noted that Bugyals/meadows are also considered as high-altitude grasslands or meadows situated in the hills, particularly in Garhwal region of Chamoli district below the peak of ‘Jyouragali’. The word ‘Bugyal’ in Garhwali basically means meadow and pasture land which exists above a certain altitude in the mountains also known as ‘Alpine Meadows’.
To be sure, the Bugyal area is primarily meant for grazing the sheep and goats. Roopkund is also situated in this area. Lohajung is the base camp of the well-acclaimed trekking for Roopkund. Bugyal are also known as ‘Nature’s own gardens’. The petitioner had also sought direction against overnight stay of the tourists in the local surroundings of Himalayan Bugyals and also for stopping the gathering of ‘Keera Jari’ (Yarsagambu, a medicinal plant).
Truth be told, in para 24 the Bench without mincing any words observes clearly and categorically that, “What emerges from the facts, enumerated hereinabove, is that there are world famous Bugyals/meadows in District Chamoli. The State Government has not taken effective steps to conserve and preserve them. Construction of Fibre Huts in Bugyals is causing irreparable damage to the environment and ecology of the area. The meadows are god’s grass-lands. No camping activity should be permitted on these grasslands. The number of tourists visiting these Bugyals should also be restricted. The commercial grazing should not be permitted. The State Government has permitted the tourists to stay overnight in these huts. The Bugyals are the eco-systems in themselves. The damage caused to these Bugyals has led to global warming resulting in melting of glaciers at an alarming rate. The State Government, till date, has not constituted any Eco Development Committees to save the Bugyals. The Bugyals are the important feature of ecosystem. Every effort should be made to save them from disaster. The correspondence(s) have been exchanged between the functionaries of the State but on the ground, nothing concrete has been done to salvage the situation.”
Going forward, in para 32 which is the next important para of this landmark judgment, the Bench observes that, “Alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows Bugyals are also littered with plastic bags, cans thrown indiscriminately by the tourists. It is the duty cast upon the State Government to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country as per Article 48A of the Constitution of India. Under Article 51A(g), it is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Finally and most importantly, para 33 concludes this landmark judgment by stating unambiguously that, “Accordingly, the present petition is disposed of by issuing the following mandatory directions: -
A. The state government is directed to remove all the permanent structures from the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals in the State of Uttarakhand including Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyals within three months.
B. The state government is directed to constitute the Eco-Development Committees within six weeks in eco-sensitive zones throughout the state of Uttarakhand to protect and preserve the nature, environment and ecology.
C. The state government is directed to restrict the number of tourists (not more than 200) visiting the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals.
D. No person, including the state public undertakings/private entrepreneurs shall construct any permanent structure on the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals throughout Uttarakhand.
E. Overnight stay in the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals is banned.
F. The commercial grazing of cattle is banned on alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals forthwith. The local shepherds alone will be permitted to graze their cattle on the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals by imposing reasonable restriction on the number of cattle.
G. All the District Magistrates throughout the state are directed to ensure removal of plastic water bottles, cans etc. from the alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals within six weeks from today.
H. The state government is also directed to ensure that no encroachment is made in these alpine meadows/Bugyals in any form, even in the name of religion. The encroachments already made are ordered to be removed within three months from today by issuing notices.
I. The state government is directed to conduct systematic survey of its flora at the earliest to prepare comprehensive manual, as recommended by the experts within six months from today.
J. Every forest division should have a herbarium of important medicinal, rare, threatened and botanically interesting plants for reference. The exploitation of medicinal plants should be limited and it should be done only through government/public sector, as recommended by the experts.
K. The state government is also directed to introduce rotational grazing of cattle in alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals, as recommended by experts, where alternative sites are available. The stay of livestock is ordered to be reduced, as recommended by the experts.
L. The state government is directed to consider declaring all import high altitude valleys and alpine meadows/sub-alpine meadows/Bugyals with rich plants as high altitude National Parks/sanctuaries within six months from today.”
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkehra,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.