Use judicial powers, Forest dept told

Lok adalat expresses concern over smuggling of rare medicinal plants to Kerala

Over 70,000 cases, including 2,500 cases which are in court, have been booked as forest offences under the Act. The Adalat noted that the department had failed to try a single case.

“What if there are violations from government departments? Who is stopping you from taking up these cases?” the Lok Adalat team, comprising High Court judge N K Patil and Lok Adalat member A N Yellappa Reddy, said.

The Adalat observed that there had been rampant bio-piracy (due to the lack of a bio-diverisity registry) and smuggling of medicinal plants to other states.

“There is rampant bio-piracy, and you are sleeping. The more time you take on preparing the biodiversity registry, the instances of smuggling activities will also be more. We cannot even go to courts during such instances, because of the lack of a registry,” said Reddy.

He said that lorry loads of medicinal plants were being smuggled indiscriminately to Kerala, and the department had to put in place a robust intervention. Many medicinal plant species including Nothapodoites Foetida and Coscinium Fenestratum were being smuggled into Kerala, and that the species were under great threat, the Adalat said.

The Adalat questioned the department on the measures it had taken to meet the demand for timber, once the ban on export of timber came into effect. Karnataka depends entirely on other states and countries for timber. Karnataka consumes an average of 1.4 lakh cubic meters of timber annually.  

The department was also criticised for not reclaiming lands from non-working mining leases. Karnataka has 106 leases on an area of 7,465 hectares, out of which 26 are non-working leases.

Slamming the department for not having a proper mechanism to regulate and control
introduction of genetically modified crop varieties like Monsanto’s Bollgard BT Cotton into the State’s ecology, the Lok Adalat observed that if this was not done, it could adversely affect many indigenous plant species.

Kaushik Mukherjee, Principal Secretary of the Forest Department, sought additional funds from the government for green initiatives.

For 2011-12, the department’s budget is Rs 250.42 crore, which is just 0.6 per cent of the State budget. This is highly insufficient for greening programmes, he told the Adalat. The department also requires additional staff to handle the pending legal cases, he said.
The Adalat sought an environment audit report from the department in the next three months, and written court affidavits of all presentations from officials concerned within 15 days. The next Lok Adalat sitting for the department is on November 19.

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