Trees for roads: Speaker, MLAs in dock

Indicting Karnataka Legislative Assembly Speaker K G Bopaiah and two BJP legislators for felling trees in Kodagu district and forcibly constructing roads inside a wildlife sanctuary, the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) asked the apex court to take stern action against the guilty.

boK G Bopaiah. File PhotoThe CEC which investigated a complaint about alleged destruction of forests by flouting rules, sought the highest court’s  “stern intervention” against Bopaiah and two others - S G Medappa, MLC and Appachu Ranjan,MLA.

Action was also sought against officials, including Baladevakrishna, former Deputy Commissioner of Kodagu district and G A Sudarshan, former conservator of forests, Kodagu circle.

Holding Bopaiah, Medappa and Ranjan responsible for the felling, the CEC observed that despite several forest officials raising objection to the construction of roads, the three politicians took a group of people to the spot for construction of road in prohibited areas and felling trees.

A bench comprising justices K S Radhakrishna and C K Prasad issued notice to Sudarshan, seeking his response on the charges made against him.

Inspection on cards

Following the complaint by retired Air Marshal K C Cariappa, the CEC team led by its Chairman P V Jayakrishnan, which inspected spots where forests were damaged, submitted a 224-page report to the court.

The complainant, on December 22, 2008, wrote to the committee alleging that a high power committee meeting held at Madikeri decided to construct roads through Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuaries and Kadamakal reserved forest in Kodagu district, that are part of the biodiversity hotspots  of Western Ghats.

Charging that the three “wilfully violated” the apex court’s earlier orders to protect forests, the CEC also said that the “role of Bopaiah, Medappa and Ranjan has been irresponsible” (in pressing for construction of bridge in Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary).

The CEC immediately forwarded the letter to the state government asking it to stop any construction in prohibited areas. The government forwarded it to the officials in Kodagu district. However, despite the CEC directions, three roads were constructed in the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Pattighat Reserved Forest connecting Dabadaka to Bhagamandala-Karike road (length 10 km) and a 23 km road to connect Somwarpet to Subramanya in violation of all forest laws.

The complainant brought the construction to the notice of the CEC on January 16, 2009. The committee found that Bopaiah, Medappa and Ranjan led a group of people and forcibly constructed the roads in the forests by felling trees and damaging vegetation using heavy machinery.

The report sought action against Sudarshan for indiscriminately permitting felling of trees and construction of roads in natural forests located in the reserve forests in the Pushpagiri and Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries in violation of the Forest Conservation Act.

It recommended that the Karnataka government be directed to investigate forest officials R K Srivatsav and S D Pathak and any others found to have misused the provision of Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act, 1976. It suggested withdrawal of all decisions, orders, circulars and instructions that allow felling of naturally grown trees.

The panel suggested that the state government should constitute an expert committee to identify and consider the feasibility of acquiring the private enclosures having dense natural forests adjoining the reserve forests or wildlife sanctuaries in Kodagu district and other districts within Western Ghats region to prevent further fragmentation and destruction.

K G Bopaiah: “SC has not taken any action yet. I haven’t seen the report. I don’t want to comment on this anymore. Just because you media people keep asking us questions, it doesn’t mean we have to respond to them all.”

Appachu ranjan: “I can only comment on the 26-km Kadamakal-Subramanya road. The previous government had laid about 20 km of the road, and about 6 km was remaining. After BJP government came to power, we conducted road inspection and filled up the pits. No trees have been felled.”

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