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13.8.10

The forest department is becoming the worst enemy of the environment. An erstwhile reserve forest area on a quiet stretch on the Kondapur-Gachibowli road is being cleared to make way for a five-star hotel. About 128 acres of the forest area, which is under the Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation (APFDC), has been leased out to city-based NCS Group of companies to construct a star hotel.

The forest area was denotified in 2001 for the purpose of developing a botanical garden along with a night safari and a bird sanctuary. While the project never really took off except the botanical garden, even that is being cleared to make way for the star hotel.

About 19 acres of the forest area has been earmarked for the commercial venture. In fact, several trees have recently been felled at the site to facilitate construction work. In 2003, the APFDC as part of the agreement signed with the botanical wing of NCS, had leased out 128 acres of reserve forest area for 33 years, to the private firm to 'design, develop and maintain' it and help promote eco-tourism. The firm, which has a botanical garden wing, developed the area into a garden as per the agreement and in 2009 entered into a fresh deal with APFDC to start commercial activity on the garden premises.

Analysts note that this agreement spelt doom for the reserve forest area with the eco-tourism project turning into a real estate venture. "APFDC projects always look very promising in the beginning. Most of them start out with an environment-friendly plan but soon change tracks and get into more profitable commercial ventures. The botanical garden project is one of them," said a senior official of the forest department.

When contacted, officials of APFDC and NCS vehemently denied charges of irregularities. "They are building cottages with five-star facilities not a hotel," said G Prabhakar Rao, assistant director (eco-tourism), APFDC. Though an NCS employee admitted that a five-star hotel was indeed being built on the reserve forest area, a senior official of the company preferred to call it a star 'tourist accommodation centre'. Even as the official denied any commericial activity being on the agenda of the company, the 2009 deal clearly states otherwise. The firm, as part of its renewed agreement with APFDC, already has plans of building a museum, library and college of gardening apart from a multistoried shopping complex, residential apartments on the forest land.


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