Karnataka govt seeks say in managing forests

The Act’s inclusion of commercial activities, which would introduce industries to protected forests, is a cause for concern. DH file photo

Responding to the Centre’s introduction of a new draft forest law which has been described by ecologists as a disaster for the country, state forest officials have asked to be allowed to manage forests their own way.

The draft amendment proposed by the Centre in February aims to tinker with an original bit of legislation drafted by the British in 1927 to shape the protection of forest areas. The new amendment grants forest officers more sweeping powers, including the greater use of firearms, infrastructure such as lock-up rooms to hold forest offenders.

Punati Sridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), described the amendment as beneficial for its provisions to allow forest officers to take more stringent action against encroachment and poachers. On the flip side, however, he described the Act’s inclusion of commercial activities, which would introduce industries to protected forests as a cause for concern.

“This is not a good thing and can be counterproductive to conservation efforts. Species must be allowed to thrive in an undisturbed environment,” he opined.

In an official letter to the Union government, state officials wrote that: “The state has been implementing the Karnataka Forest Act 1963 and Karnataka Forest Rules 1969, since 1969. A number of amendments have been made over the year depending upon the changed circumstances. These amendments have proved effective in protecting and managing the forests of the State.”

Several ecologists expressed concern over the tenets of the draft law. According to Praveen Bhargav, a former member of the National Board for Wildlife, the new legislation throws up red flags by its use in the text of words and phrases such as “assigning” and “production forests”.

“These terms are dangerous. I don’t know who drafted this new law, but it appears to have been created in a way as to allow corporates access to reserved forests,” Bhargav said.

This law will do nothing but plunder forests, added J Manjunath, secretary of the Wilderness Club, who described the 1927 law as a way for British colonials to exploit the forests for their own end. 

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