70K acres of forest land left to encroachers' mercy

70K acres of forest land left to the mercy of encroachers

The land was leased to Mysore Paper Mills (MPM) Limited, a government-owned company that shut operations in 2015. Picture for representation

About 70,000 acres of forest land in Shivamogga have been left to the mercy of encroachers, as the state government is sitting on the Forest Department’s proposal to reclaim the land for more than a year.

The land was leased out to The Mysore Paper Mills (MPM) Limited, a government-owned company that shut operations in 2015 and was shut down last year, after a long delay over payment to its workers.

Throughout its operation period, the mill replaced the rich diversity of the natural forests — which are part of the fragile Western Ghats — with monoculture plantation of pulpwood to feed the machines. Farmers and environmentalists across the district had opposed the mill since its inception.

A senior official said the Forest Department wrote to the government last year stating that the entire forest land has to be taken back at the earliest considering the threat faced by the Western Ghats. 

Local officials said the land was being encroached piece by piece as the number of watchers has come down over the years. “The plantation land is split into 525 parcels. There is hardly enough manpower to protect these areas. Thousands of encroachments have already taken place as officials have failed to act due to government indecision,” a
forest official who served in Shivamogga said.

In private hands

Sources said the government has revived the idea of selling MPM and transferring the lease of 70,000 acres. “Only this time, they want to make the offer much more enticing by relaxing some of the rules,” the source added.

An official confirmed the development but noted that the lease cannot be extended unless clearance is obtained by the Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change. “Selling the MPM along with land lease will have to go through the forest clearance process. Long-term lease of such huge area of forests in the area is inimical to the ecology of the Western Ghats. The department had previously advised the forest minister that reclaiming the land was a must,” he said. 

The mill had faced opposition from people in 45 villages who protested the monoculture plantations. Some took the issue to the high court, which had ruled in favour of the farmers.

Anant Hegde Asheesar, who had written to the government on the issue as the chairman of the Western Ghats Task Force, now occupies the chair of the Biodiversity Board. He said protection of forest land has never been more important. “We have already seen the havoc caused by the floods. I have requested the government to rescue the forest land and prevent further degradation,” he said.

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