The forest department will launch a publicity and awareness campaign on the implemen- tation of the controversial report prepared by the Dr K Kasturirangan committee on conservation of Western Ghats. The aim is to get the support of the general public.
Thirty-three taluks in the State have been declared eco-sensitive area (ESA) by the report. That means, as many as 1,549 villages will be affected if the report is implemented.
The forest department will launch an awareness campaign as recommended by Forest Minister B Ramanath Rai. The Kannada version of the report would be distributed among all gram panchayat members and people in the affected villages, sources said.
Local teams sent to the villages for public hearings will then submit people’s feedback to the State government. The feedback will act as a referendum of sorts on the notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the said report.
The Kasturirangan report had faced stiff opposition from people, especially in Uttara Kannada, Kodagu and Shimoga districts. Huge portions of taluks in Uttara Kannada district stand to be lost to Western Ghats conservation efforts. According to sources, this particular issue was discussed at a meeting of the forest officials. Accordingly, an awareness campaign on the report has been finalised for the region.
At the meeting, it was also decided that the government will move swiftly to clear illegal encroachments in ESA villages as mandated by the report. Besides, sources said, the government would look at a ‘resettlement package’ for residents of the 1,549 villages for recovering the land wherever possible. It is, however, said that only 11 per cent of the population in these taluks lives in the ESA, thus limiting the human resettlement impact.
Accordingly, the State is planning to approach the Centre for financial assistance for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the villagers. It is said that under the recommendations of the report, the State will try to use the Western Ghats conservation fund to be set up by the Finance Commission. It is said that the State may receive about Rs 1,000 crore. On the other hand, the forest department is reviewing the hydel power projects in the region to ensure they do not violate the criteria fixed by the Kasturirangan committee. Sources said the department would soon inspect these hydel projects as well as other industries that had been allotted land in Western Ghats.
As per the Kasturirangan report, Karnataka accounts for 27 per cent or 44,448 sq km of the Western Ghats. Of this, 14,551 sq km has been earmarked as ESA. Fifty-eight per cent of ESA has already been classified as reserved forest, national parks, wildlife protected areas. The rest of the area is populated where people have taken up agriculture, horticulture and areca nut plantations.