Tapoban builds illegally in park area: Officials

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Oct 31, 2018-

Osho Tapoban, the Nagarjun-based international commune and forest retreat named after spiritual guru Rajneesh Osho, has been flouting conservation laws as it expands infrastructure in the national park buffer zone by clearing trees.

Following the application from the Osho Tapoban the government in 2005 had handed over 22 ropani’s of forest in the buffer zone of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park as religious forest to the retreat centre for 10 years. It is legally binding for the forest managing body to make sure the area is protected and trees are not felled.

However, a road, a bridge and a guard shelter have been built in the forest area occupied by the centre, which has been registered as a non-government organisation. The Department of Roads constructed the infrastructure as demanded by the Osho Tapoban management without permission from the national park authority.

The park authority asked the Tapoban management and Road Department in the last week of April to clarify why they flouted the legal provisions by building in the conservation area. The Tapoban management clarified that it was the department which built the road and the bridge. However, national park officials argue that since the Tapoban is responsible for managing the forest, it is also responsible for its conservation.

“We are holding legal consultations on possible action against it,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, chief conservation officer at the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park Office. “We’ll take a decision soon.”Kunwar said the Tapoban management had treated the land as its private property, defying conservation laws and principles. It has also overlooked the need for renewing permission for forest use every 10 years.

Three years since the due date, the Tapoban has neither received a renewed permit nor has vacated the area. It was only after the park’s objection six months ago that the Tapoban management applied for renewal.Osho Tapoban Management Committee members have strongly denied any wrongdoing. “It was the government which funded the infrastructure and the Department of Roads that constructed it,” Sudip Poudel, member-secretary of the committee, told the Post. “This is only a conspiracy to tarnish our image.”

Poudel, however, didn’t have a clear answer to why the Tapoban had not renewed the licence to use the forest patch. He said the fresh allegations were aimed at foiling their bid to renew the permit.Road officials said they carried out the construction as the project was funded by the government. “The project was approved at the Tapoban’s request and our job is to construct it,” Mukti Gautam, a spokesperson for the department, told the Post.

Conservation officer Kunwar said it is illegal to build any infrastructure in the forest or national park area without clearance no matter who does it. Even the ministries tasked with development works cannot build without permission from the Forest Ministry. For instance, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has failed to clear trees at the Nijgadh International Airport construction site in Bara in the lack of clearance from the Forest Ministry. The local community and the buffer zone user group have also filed complaints at the Forest Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office against the Tapoban management for encroaching upon the forest guarded by the national park and the community.

“The managers of Osho Tapoban are using their connections with top politicians and bureaucrats for the encroachment,” said Nirajan Tamang, chairman of the Golgunda Jitpur User Committee in the national park buffer zone. Top politicians and bureaucrats are regular clients of the Osho Tapoban and its chief Swami Ananda Arun maintains good relations with them.

Regulation related to Buffer Zone Management says the respective national park can take the religious forest back if the institutions managing it don’t comply with the legal terms and conditions.“We have the authority to take the forest back from Tapoban but we haven’t reached that conclusion yet,” Kunwar said.

Published: 31-10-2018 07:09

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