Challenges in saving Kappatagudda

Challenges in saving Kappatagudda

Many dry areas have fragmented patches of natural forests especially on the hills interspersed with vast stretches of agriculture lands and human habitation.

These forest patches have played important roles in soil moisture conservation, providing refuge to wild animals, slowing the siltation of large, medium and small reservoirs etc. With the growing pressure of human and cattle population, these small patches of natural forests are facing further degradation and fragmentation.

Most of these forest patches are marked as reserve forests. However, there are still some patches where notifications have been given under Section 4 of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963, to mark them as reserve forests, but the matter is still pending with the Revenue Department that controls forest settlement proceedings. These cases have not been resolved even after the lapse of five decades.

Sandur forests in Ballari district are an example of such mischief. In recent years, with the clearance from the central government many mining leases have been renewed. The forests are being plundered as mining continues without following the safety norms and stipulated conditions imposed while granting forest and environmental clearances. Forest officers along with others are under the scanner for alleged irregularities in mining. This destruction has depleted water-flow from the forests to human settlements.

The Kappatagudda area in Gadag district supports a very good vegetation of native species over an area of 244 sqkm. It is home to leopards, hyenas, wolves, four-horned antelopes, black bucks etc.

These forests were proposed to be declared a sanctuary in 2011-12. The matter was discussed in the State Board for Wildlife and a subcommittee headed by former cricketer Anil Kumble was constituted to conduct a public hearing. As the chief wildlife warden, I was also a member of the sub-committee. The public hearing was held in 2013 and the response was favourable. Yet, the sanctuary was not notified.

Having failed to notify all four blocks as a sanctuary, the biggest single block of 179 sqkm was proposed for declaration of conservation reserve in 2015 and it was notified in November 2016, but the state withdrew it under pressure from mining companies. There was overwhelming support from the public when the consultation was held in January 2017. The group opposing the notification challenged the public consultation in the High Court, but did not succeed. Reeling under public pressure, the government on April 11 issued an order to make Kappatagudda a conservation reserve.

Farmers’ nightmare

Gadag and Koppal districts have a very dense population of black bucks, which wander into agricultural fields and destroy crops. Once chased, they take refuge in nearby vegetations. Thus, vegetation or forest patches are necessary to minimise crop damage and also to secure habitats for black bucks.

I have visited damaged agricultural fields and interacted with the farmers when I was the chief wildlife warden. The situation used to be pathetic and I could only expedite the ex-gratia payment for their losses. The farming communities do not resort to killing these animals, as they call the species “Krishna Mruga” and worship it.

Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, an NGO, has conducted a survey of vegetation in the area and has confirmed the presence of 423 floral species of medicinal plants. The important medicinal plants being Caraluma adscendens, Celastrus paniculatus, Emblica officinalis, Gardenia latifolia, Gloriosa superba, Gymnema sylvestris, Pterocarpus marsupium, Soymida febrifuga, Strychnos potatorum among others. Any disturbance in the area will endanger them. The efforts of the state government in restoring the status of conservation reserve for 179 sqkm area of Kappatagudda has to be appreciated.

Such forests in dry areas do not require any artificial plantation. They have tremendous potential to regenerate. All we have to do is to give respite to the forests and protect them from grazing, illicit cutting and fire. The state has taken action to notify sanctuaries in Mudhol forests of Bagalkot, Chincholi forests of Kalaburagi district and many more.

Even with the rampant destruction of forests, we still have some good forests left with us in Chitradurga, Koppal, Bellari and Raichur. All of these forests should be declared as sanctuaries so that a higher category of protection can be provided to them.

(The author is retired principal chief conservator of forests, Karnataka)