Illegal felling of trees exposed

Illegal felling of trees exposed

Contractor had permission only to cut dead trees and remove fallen trees

Illegal felling of trees exposed

 A view of the Tataguni estate on Kanakapura Road. Photo by the author

The contractor had permission only to remove 53 dead and fallen silver oak and eucalyptus trees. In violation, he had chopped green trees though not exceeding the number.

The department has submitted its enquiry report into the illegal tree felling to the Chief Secretary.

The Tataguni estate, spread across 468.33 acresof land on Kanakapura road, is under the purview of the Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate Board of the State government. The estate has an estimated 4,000 trees including bursera trees (lavender), which has immense commercial value. It also houses a bunglow and a studio which belonged to the Roerich couple. The custody of the estate has become a bone of contention between the government and Mary Poonacha, who was the secretary of late Russian artist Roerich. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

Sources in the forest department said the jurisdictional officers had given permit to one contractor Jabbar to fell only 53 dead and fallen trees. Such practice is legally permitted.
 “Our investigation has revealed that the contractor had felled about 20 green trees, mainly sizygium cumini (Jamun) for which he had no permit. But no bursera tree has been cut”, said N Devaraj, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bangalore Urban). Jamun trees have timber value, while eucalyptus and silver oak mainly serve as pulp wood. Jamun trees have more market value than the other two varieties.

The forest department learnt about the illegal tree felling only after the trees were moved out of the estate. The department, conducted a check to find the trees that were cut and tallied it with the permits given. The verification showed that nearly 20 live trees were cut down. The Chief Secretary, top forest and police officers had visited the estate to take stock of the situation. The estate’s management is vested with the Roerich board headed by Mujeed Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer.

He has lodged a police complaint with Talagattapura police station regarding the illegal tree felling.

“The culprit was made to pay Rs 70,000 for the illegal trees he had taken away. Penalty to be imposed on him is yet to be decided”, Devaraj said. A forest officer, who did not like to be named, said his department role is limited to giving permits to remove dead and fallen trees. “In case of the Roerich estate, the Board is in-charge of the management. We are not allowed to enter the estate without permission. We can’t be blamed for the illegal tree felling”, the officer said.

The estate has just 3 to 5 police constables to provide security. In addition, a watchman resides in the estate.

A few days after the illegal felling of trees became public, fire broke out in the estate. The fire personnel who were pressed into the service had said that a good number of trees including the bursera were destroyed. Contrary to this, the police enquiry has found that hardly any trees were destroyed in the accident.  The Land Protection Task Force’s Chairman V Balasubramanian had asked the Additional Director-General of Police (Law & Order) A R Infant to investigate into the fire accident in a part of the estate.

Balasubramanian said the police have found that the fire was accidental and had not caused extensive damage. “There was no major damage to trees due to the blaze”.