Draft forest policy ambiguous on mining

The draft forest policy adopts an ambiguous stand on allowing mining in ecologically sensitive areas.

The yet-to-be released policy, while laying emphasis on protection of forests from illegal mining, proposes to restrict mining in ecologically sensitive areas to the “barest minimum.” The assurance of Forest Minister C H Vijayashankar to formulate a strong legal framework against mining in sensitive zones is nowhere reflected in the policy.

All that the draft document says is “Mining and quarrying activities should depend on ecological sensitivity.”

The policy proposes to provide access to new areas only after the old areas are “fully” reclaimed and afforested.  It states that the leaseholder shall compensate for any adverse effect on the forest, even if the damage is caused by mistake.

The draft says that no forest land should be diverted for rehabilitation purposes. However, it allows the offender found responsible for diversion of forest land to get away by paying the acquisition cost.

Tribal rights

The much-debated tribal rights finds a place in the policy. It mentions of providing health, education and employment to forest dwelling tribals without interfering with their tradition and culture.

Efforts would be made to secure government employment at least for one person in each tribal family. Conservation of bio-diversity and catchment areas of rivers and lakes would be take up with the help of Global Information System. As regards wildlife management, the policy has laid focus on Bhadra and Anshi tiger reserves.

The policy also proposes to protect highly endangered species of trees such as sandalwood and medicinal herbs through appropriate regulations.

Urban local bodies in the State would be asked to earmark a fixed percentage of their budgetary outlay to increase green cover. Village forest committees would be strengthened to address livelihood issues jointly with gram panchayats.

The Forest department has said that the draft policy will be hosted on its website inviting objections.

‘Initiatives to promote local interest’

Addressing a press meet at Gundia in Hassan district, Forest Minister C H Vijayashankar said the State would have its own policy henceforth. “Karnataka was following the Centre’s policy since independence. It has been decided to bring out a state-specific policy with focus on local interests, tradition and commercial viability,” he said.

The minister said commercial cultivation of eucalyptus and acacia has been completely banned in the State. “It was a long-pending demand of environmentalists that single-specie trees were detrimental to biodiversity.” However, acacia has been allowed to be grown in coastal areas to check soil erosion.

There had been drastic decline in the number of tourists to forest resorts following increase in the entry fee. The fee was hiked to check illegal activities. However, a meeting will soon be convened to reduce the fee, the minister said.

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