Forest land grab: 'Lower rung officials made scapegoat'

Forest land grab: Only lower rung officials made scapegoats, says activist

The report submitted by the ACF confirmed encroachment of forest land

A portion of the reserve forest area in the Bhagawati Range of the Haliyal division has been encroached by farmers. Credit: Special Arrangement

Environment and RTI activist Manjunath Y Baddi has charged that forest department has made a deputy range forest officer and two forest guards scapegoat in the 1,665 acres of forest land encroachments in Bhagawati Range of Haliyal division (Uttara Kannada district), while letting off senior officers in the case.

The RTI activist in November 2020 had filed a complaint with Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance) Seema Garg and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Sanjay Mohan stating that farmers and individuals since 2014 have encroached upon reserve forest in the backwaters of Tattihalla Dam (Tattihalla, Machapura and Bogura villages) of Bhagawati Range, resulting huge loss for forest department and destruction of habitat.

Based on the complaint, the forest department instructed Yellapur Assistant Conservator of Forests to conduct an enquiry. The report submitted by the ACF confirmed encroachment of forest land, including 1,300 acres of forest land that was leased to the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) for the construction of Tattihalla Dam across a tributary of the Kali river in 1979.

However, what baffled the activist is that only lower-level officials - DyRFO Prakash Kambar, forest guards Haidarali Tambuli and Bhatish K Roudagi Kupwalli have been suspended pending enquiry on charges of dereliction of duty and failing to protect forest property from encroachment and damage to trees. Canara Circle Chief Conservator of Forest D Yatishkumar has suspended them under Section 10 of The Karnataka Civil Services Act of 1958.

“Does Yatishkumar intend to say that only these three lower-level officials allowed encroachment of thick forest areas without the notice of higher officials,” asked Manjunath. He added that efforts were being made to protect all the senior officials (from RFOs to ACF of Haliyal division) from 2014 till 2020, who failed to prevent the encroachment.

Speaking to DH, Yatishkumar said action has been initiated against the three based on the squad report submitted by ACF.

When asked about why senior officials have been let off, he said action cannot be taken against all just because someone has complained about them. “I have written to PCCF for conducting further enquiry into the case,” he said.

The encroachment of the forest land is said to have resulted in destruction of thousands of trees, including medicinal, endemic and those aged over hundreds of years, to make way for the farmers to cultivate paddy, sugarcane, maize, jowar, cotton and other crops in what was once an elephant and tiger corridor.

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