'Divert funds to protect W Ghats catchment areas'

A panel on conservation and sustainable development of the Western Ghats has recommended that 15 per cent of the financial outlay earmarked for major irrigation projects on rivers originating from the region, should be spent on protection and rejuvenation of catchment area of the river systems.

In its third set of recommendations submitted to the State government on Wednesday, the Western Ghats Task Force has planned the ‘River Valley Protection Programme’, which seeks to protect rivers and streams that originate in the Western Ghats.

The panel has observed that the catchment areas of majority of the rivers originating from the biodiversity hotspot had become increasingly polluted and degraded due to forest encroachment, river bank degradation, dumping of solid waste and sewage among others.

Besides financial allocation to protect the catchment areas, the force has suggested that the government come out with a long-term river protection policy with scientific guidelines for land use in major river systems.

Task Force Chairman Anant Hegde Ashisara also submitted a detailed report on the panel recommendations to Forest Minister C P Yogeeshwara.

Among the other recommendations of the panel include setting up a ‘Western Ghats Conservation Fund’ directly administered by the chief minister.

Resources can be raised from individual philanthropists and private companies willing to donate as per their corporate social responsibility principles. The funds could be utilised in plant protection, afforestation, fire prevention, tackling smuggling and poaching, and managing man-animal conflict.

The task force has suggested the expansion and strengthening of village forest committees (VFC).

Steps should be taken to establish VFCs in every forest division across the State and a fixed amount of seed money should be given to the committees to sustain their activities.
The panel has stressed the need for promotion of alternative energy modes for sustainable post-harvest processing practices for tobacco in the Hunsur region.

More than five lakh tonnes of wood is used by 42,000 farmers in Mysore district during processing of tobacco every year. The panel has pointed out that every year more than two and half lakh trees are lost for firewood to process tobacco in Mysore, Kodagu and Chamarajnagar districts.

Alternative energy sources like agri-residue, coconut shells, tobacco plant residue need to be used  in these processing units and 25 lakh saplings should be planted in the three districts, the Task Force has recommended.

Yogeeshwara said a committee comprising senior officers of the department would go through the recommendations and chalk out a plan of action for its implementation.

Suggestions
*  Ban on mining in Western Ghats region should continue.
*  Policy for sustainable development of Western Ghats region.
*  Rejuvenation of district-level committees of forest and environmental issues.
*  Rejuvenation of research wing of forest department.

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