Vast swathes of forest land lost to 'development', mining in 32 yrs

‘Development projects’ and mining leases have taken a heavy toll on the State’s forests and 28,536.85 hectares of prime forest land have been lost in the last 32 years.

The Forest department puts the present total forest cover in the State at 32.28 lakh hectares.

The demand for power, water and connectivity has resulted in the loss of prime forest cover across the State, despite stringent rules, following the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act on October 25, 1980. 

According to statistics available with the Forest department, 590 projects or cases have been registered, resulting in the loss of green cover in Karnataka.

Due to the high deposits of minerals in Karnataka, there have been 129 cases of forest land being utilised for mining or quarrying purposes in the State. Other major projects which have appropriated green cover include the laying of transmission lines, irrigation projects and hydel or wind power projects.

To compensate for the loss and to ensure that forest land is restored, on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2009, a Central fund under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority was set up.

The fund primarily contributes to afforestation programmes of states and ensures there is proper restoration of the forests. Current estimates show that Karnataka has to afforest 25,219.71 hectares of land to compensate for losses.

The Authority currently has a corpus of $5 billion, with all the states contributing a certain amount, depending on their forest cover and the requirement for conservation.

Karnataka has contributed Rs 868.30 crore to the fund, considering that forest cover in the State is close to 20 per cent of its size.

According to the Supreme Court directive, the states cannot touch the principal corpus, and afforestation activities should be taken up only with the interest received from the fund. Karnataka receives around Rs 40 crore a year.

Officials in the Forest department said the allocation, despite assurances of providing Rs 100 crore every year, is not more than Rs 40 crore due to the ceiling.

“We have decided to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court for the relaxation of the ceiling. We are expecting a minimum of Rs 80 crore,” said an official.

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