'Forest dept underreporting animal deaths'

'Forest dept underreporting animal deaths'

State has to mitigate man-animal conflicts, strengthen elephant corridors, says CAG report

Resource and fund constraints are major challenges before the Karnataka Forest Department, which needs immediate attention to mitigate the man-animal conflict, strengthen elephant corridors and enhance forest cover, B K Mukherjee, Accountant General (E&RSA) said on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after the maiden report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on performance audit of “Administration of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in Karnataka”, was tabled in the state legislature on Wednesday, Mukherjee said forest patches of Karnataka have changed due to change in land use pattern because of encroachment and improper planning.

“Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot and faces severe threat. So, we decided to prepare a report on this sensitive topic. We covered 90% of the fragile Western Ghats. We found that the forest department underreports cases of poaching, animal death, conflicts, encroachment and forest fire areas. We also found that the forest department does not have a management plan in place to mitigate forest fires and plan policies,” he said.

The audit was conducted in three national parks: Bandipur (BTR), Nagarhole (NTR) and Kudremukh (KTR) and 11 wildlife sanctuaries of Anshi-Dandeli, Bhadra, Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT), Brahmagiri, Cauvery, Male Mahadeshwara Hills, Mookambika, Pushpagiri, Sharavathi, Someshwara and Talacauvery. Field and scientific analysis was done over a period of five years and topographic assessments based on satellite maps were done collecting data from 1973.

“During the period we found that mini hydel projects (MHP) have impacted the eco-sensitive areas of Nilgiri Biosphere and Western Ghats, but forest department has no record of the trees affected. For example, the Beedahalli MHP coming up in Pushpagiri was affecting the critically endangered riparian species, Madhuca insignis, which was thought to be extinct and was rediscovered in 2004 after a 120-year gap,” he said.

The report points out that the department underplayed cases of encroachment and acres of forest lost to fire. It also points to change in land use from ever-green to agriculture and horticulture, which was not there in 1973, showing encroachment. The report shows that there are 1,956 villages around 11 protected areas where 26,685 cases of conflict have been reported from 2011-16.

Encroachment has increased from 42,518 acres in 1995 to 2,04,442 acres till October 2014.  “According to our data, the open area is 31,677 acres but according to the department it is 5,002 acres. Further, of the 4,000-odd encroachment cases identified, the department has booked only 14 cases. The rehabilitation programme has done well only in case of Bhadra,” pointed Mukherjee.

“We found that forest fires were underplayed by the department and the figures of the head office and ground staff did not match. For example, in BTR, as per the PCCF letter, 973 acres were gutted in 2012, but the division office stated 650 acres. In NTR, while the PCCF letter mentioned it as 1,916 acres, the division office said it was 698.12 acres. Protected areas do not have any ready management plan to mitigate fire,” he noted. He said that the report would also be shared with neighbouring states falling under the Nilgiri Biosphere for analysis.

Jump in tiger, elephant population
Mukherjee pointed out that the though the habitat has shrunk, the tiger and elephant population in the state has increased along with density. In BTR there are 10.28 to 11.29 tigers per sqkm against the international standard 8 to 9 per sqkm. “There is a need to increase the protected area so that tigers and elephants have more space.

As this will start to affect the gene pool, leading to destabilisation, which lead to tigers having defects and increased death rate,”  he pointed out. “Enhancement of corridors is needed and, during the study we found that they have been encroached upon for agriculture and coffee plantations. Funds should not be a constraint in increasing the corridors. The high court too in 2013 directed the forest department to strengthen its corridors, but nothing has been done,” he said.