Kathmandu, June 12
The Supreme Court has ordered the government not to build roads or railway lines through Chitwan National Park without consulting stakeholders, especially the CNP and UNESCO.
This was stated in the verdict passed by a division bench of Justices Anand Mohan Bhattarai and Tej Bahadur KC on February 13 in response to a public interest litigation filed by Advocate Ram Chandra Simkhada and others against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and others. The full text of the verdict was released today.
The petitioners had challenged the government’s plan to build roads and railway lines through the park, a world heritage site listed in 1984 at the request of the Nepal government.
The petitioners argued that since the park was a sanctuary for endangered flora and fauna, allowing construction of roads through the park would violate national and international laws.
The court said that although the defendants denied any work was being carried out on road project, reports suggested that feasibility study and Environment Impact Assessment had already been done and initial construction had started on the Birgunj-Thori, Thori-Bharatpur section of the Postal Highway, East-West railway, Dumkivas-Triveni road, Madi-Balmiki Ashram road and Thori-Malekhu road projects.
As per the public trust doctrine, natural resources are properties of all Nepalis and should be preserved for future generations, the SC observed.
No road projects that could go through the park should be constructed without an EIA prepared in consultation with stakeholders, including Chitwan National Park and UNESCO, the apex court observed.
According to court documents, UNESCO Kathmandu and IUCN had inspected Chitwan National Park in 2014 and IUCN later submitted a report saying if all the planned road projects were carried out, then CNP would be divided in almost eight to 10 parts.
The SC said government agencies had tried to keep the court in the dark on construction of road projects. Contrary to the court’s expectation, the government defied an interim order passed by the court, the SC observed. The apex court found fault with the EIA for Thori-Madi-Bharatpur road section, saying it did not state anything about the study conducted by IUCN and UNESCO and discussions held on CNP issues at World Heritage Committee in Poland in 2017.
The SC observed that the EIA appeared to have been prepared with the sole objective of moving ahead with the road construction project and that the line ministry’s 31 January 2019 decision to accept EIA was wrong. It further said the government did not consult the National Parks Office and Wildlife Department which were against construction of road through the park.
It is necessary to prevent uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources and destruction of bio-diversity. If human settlements within the park are posing challenges to the conservation of the park then relocation of the residents could also be an option, the SC observed.
The government had, on 31 January 2019, endorsed the EIA for Thori-Madi, Bharatpur Road Project. Petitioners had stated that the government had endorsed a plan to build a 30-kilometre road from Thori of Parsa to Triveni of Nawalparasi East. Petitioners had also argued that the government had endorsed a plan in 2011-12 to construct a section of postal road from Thori to Triveni linking Madi, Jagatpur, Meghauli, Kolwa and Bahuwan.
The petitioners had stated that Nepal had obligation to protect the park under various international treaties, including International Plant Protection Convention 1951, Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Natural and Cultural Heritage 1972, among others.
A version of this article appears in print on June 13, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.