New hope for Karnataka forests

The nature-lovers of Karnataka are delighted to behold a few proactive decisions of the state government in the field of conservation. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy gave approval for the formation of a few new protected areas, conversion of reserve forests into sanctuaries, elevation of a wildlife sanctuary into a tiger reserve and even for the expansion of a few sanctuaries in the state.

Some important forest habitats that will now get the tag of conservation reserves include Mulliayanagiri in Chikkamagaluru, Bhukapatna in Tumakuru for chinkaras and Mulabagilu in Kolar for leaf-nosed bats. In Kolar, the Malur-Kamasamudra Wildlife Reserve for leopards and sloth bears and an elephant corridor, too, got the nod in the eleventh meeting of the State Wildlife Board. Some 15 square kilometres of Muneshwara Reserve Forests is merged with Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.

About 32,000 acres of hill ranges of Kappatagudda Conservation Reserve will now be a wildlife sanctuary. Two sanctuaries — the Sharavathi Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and Gudekote Sanctuary will see expansion in their areas with the addition of more than 201 sq km and 103 sq km respectively. The MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is in the process of getting the tag of a tiger reserve. When it does, it will be the sixth tiger reserve in the state.

The Centre ‘setting aside’ the 240-km Thalaserry-Periyapatna (Mysuru) railway project, citing issues over forest clearance, is another good news for the conservationists in Karnataka. This project was planned at a cost of Rs 5,052 crore, through Kutta, Kanoor, Balele and Thithimathi in Kodagu district, cutting through ecologically sensitive, thick evergreen forests disregarding the stiff protests of the people of Karnataka, especially in Kodagu.

The Government of Karnataka had opposed the construction of the road or lifting of the nine-hour night traffic ban on NH-212 that passes through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. But the Kerala government was actively lobbying for the same for many years. Now, the Centre has finally made its stand clear and said that the elevated road, proposed to come up in Bandipur Tiger Reserve to overcome the night traffic ban from 9pm to 6am, has not been approved.

Making this statement in the Rajya Sabha recently, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Mahesh Sharma said the corridor proposal comprising elevated structures at four regular intervals, as recommended by the Union Ministry of Road Transport, has not been concurred with.

Karnataka is known for its varied topography and ecosystems — its rivers, hills, valleys, plains, forests and resources and its rich ecological heritage. Karnataka’s forests are unique in their formation and diversity. This represents 5.5% of the forest cover of the country. The state is ranked fourth in the country with regard to its area under tree cover, with 5,000 varieties of plants and several different vertebrate and invertebrate animal species.

Unfortunately, in our race towards progress, severe damage has been done to the state’s ecology and environment. The environmental situation throughout the length and breadth of Karnataka has been facing constant threats.

But the government, despite its responsibility as the custodian of the state’s natural wealth, appeared to be extraordinarily eager to facilitate ‘development’ projects even in ecologically sensitive zones. It is time to reverse this trend and restore the environmental balance in the state. This is the prime responsibility of the government.

In Karnataka, the NGOs’ deep concern over environmental issues has tended to give rise to protest movements from time to time. As a result, the state has become an important battlefield of intense environmental movements. The state has an impressive record of NGOs working for the cause of environmental protection. Recently, in a number of instances, NGOs have strongly condemned the government’s environmental policy on various grounds.

The network of NGOs have drawn the attention of the government to critical lapses in the protection of the environment and wildlife. It appeared that the ministry was not serious about the consultation process or involving the people in the policy-making process.

As people’s groups, NGOs and mass movements show, we are deeply concerned and anguished at the way governments over the last few years have severely undermined the importance of environmental issues in decision-making.

Natural resources, not the economy, determine the power of a nation. In medieval times, India had the highest GDP, though there was not much technological growth. Natural resources are the true wealth of the nation. Its flora, fauna, minerals and water systems decide the wellbeing of the people. Thus, the decision of the government to protect its flora and fauna through legislation is futuristic and the government and the chief minister deserve applause of the people of Karnataka.

(The writer is Professor of Zoology, Christ (Deemed to be) University, and the founder of Green Army, a student forum for conservation and adventure)

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New hope for Karnataka forests

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