Forest department destroyed Western Ghats: stakeholders

A roud table meeting on 'Save Western Ghats' in progress in Bengaluru on Thursday. DH photo

Caught in the pincer between recommendations of Prof Madhav Gadgil and scientist Kasturirangan committees, farmers, citizens, political leaders and activists from the Malnad region (Western Ghats) on Thursday demanded that the government must scrap both the reports and immediately notify an agricultural zone all along the Ghats region protecting the interests of regional farmers.

Holding a roundtable on the protection of Western Ghats in Bengaluru, the stakeholders not only lashed out at the state government, especially the forest department, but also resolved that they would not allow any linear projects like roads that would cause severe damage to the pristine ecology of the region.

The stakeholders comprised political leaders from all the major political parties, farmers, aggrieved inhabitants, activists, environmentalists and legal experts.

B L Shankar, former chairperson of Legislative Council and senior Congress leader blamed the present day mess on the “misdeeds” of the forest department.

“It is the forest department that has spoiled our forests. It is only after the Indian Forest Service (IFS) officials stepped in that we have lost our forests. It was not we (localities) who planted Acacia, teak or eucalyptus. It was they who raised monoculture plantations all around, disturbing the diversity,” he explained.

 Lashing out at the environmentalists Shankar said, “Why do environmentalists argue that only in Western Ghats that there should be 33% forest? Why can’t they demand the same in other parts of the state? IT, BT companies in Bengaluru are in possession of hundreds of acres sanctioned by the government. Real estate tycoons also claim vast stretches of land. Why can’t the government make it mandatory for such people to raise forest in 25% of their land?”

Green activist from Sringeri Kalkuli Vittal Hegde said, “If not for the policies of the state government and forest department none of us would have used urea or monoculture plantation.

Forest is centric to our lives. Be it the flora and fauna, we have always worshipped it since ages. It was the British who glorified killing of tigers, but all of us worshipped the animal in various forms. In today’s scenario, those who live in the city and talk about forests are environmentalists but we who live in forests and talk about forests are pseudo-environmentalists.”

Former MLA and senior JDS leader Y S V Datta said, “There is no clarity within the government on nature of deemed forest and social forest. We are for any decision that would serve both the interests—protection of western ghats as well as protection of people from Bayaluseeme who would benefit with the irrigation projects. If the projects affect ecology, alternatives need to be thought about and implemented at the earliest regardless of the expense. But none of us support any four-lane road project or any other linear development just for the sake of development.”

The stakeholders collectively urged the state government that it must set aside both the reports and listen to the people of the region. “At first, the government should identify the agriculture area and declare it as agriculture zone all along the Western Ghats. Subsequently, the government can formulate any rule on protection of forests,” the round-table demanded. 

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