SC panel asks Karnataka to acquire pvt forests

The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) recommendation that the Karnataka Government can consider taking over dense, naturally-grown forests in private lands will have far-reaching implications in the State if implemented.

The CEC, while submitting its study report to the Supreme Court, about alleged illegal constructions of roads in prohibited areas of Western Ghats falling in Kodagu district, has suggested to constitute an expert committee to study the possibility of acquiring forests grown in private land.

“The Karnataka Government can constitute a committee of experts to identify and consider the feasibility of acquiring the private enclosures having dense natural forests which have no areas or only small areas under plantation /cultivation and which are located within or adjoining the reserve forests or wildlife sanctuaries in Kodagu district and other districts within Western Ghats to prevent further fragmentation and distraction”, the report said.

The CEC headed by P V Jayakrishnan, also suggested to the highest court that Karnataka Government may be directed to submit a report in one month.

Though the Karnataka Government has not reacted to the report so far, the State will be in a fix with the CEC’s latest suggestions as the government is already at the receiving end from the apex court about the destruction of forests due to illegal iron ore mining.

The green panel, in its report after studying the incidents of construction of three roads by a group of public led by elected representatives in Kodagu district- Pushpagiri, Brahamagiri Wildlife sanctuaries and Kadamakal reserved forest-also found that there were several instances of land-locked forests where dense forests existed in private lands or close to reserve forests.

Long standing dispute

As the notified forest and forest in private lands were in a long-standing dispute in Karnataka, the apex court in 1996 had given strict instructions regarding the felling of trees in private lands supporting natural tree growth in Western Ghats.

Following this, the State government had constituted an expert committee-I, which in turn submitted its report saying that any private land that has characteristics of a forest would be identified as deemed forest.

Though the State government accepted the report of the expert committee-I, in 2002, it reconstituted the committee to classify notified forest areas as per the government records and deemed forests.

Despite the reconstituted expert committee submitting its report to the State government in 2002, neither was the report accepted nor did the government file any affidavit stating its opinion on the issue to the Supreme Court even after nearly ten years, the CEC observed.

The issue of identifying the forest in private lands as well as eviction of forest encroachments is most contentious issues in the State.

As per the government report over one lakh hectares of forests land have been encroached by over 1.12 lakh families in various places in Western Ghats falling in the State.

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