Forest ecology should take precedence over cultivation, says orderÂ
NGOs inÂ KodaguÂ have been expressing concern over decreasing forest cover
Forest Department officials accused of indiscriminate use of discretionary powers
BANGALORE: In an order that will have a far-reaching effect on the cultivation of coffee and cardamom in the Western Ghats, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R.M. Ray has said ecology should take precedence over the felling of trees done for the cultivation of coffee and other commercial crops on the hilly terrain of the Western Ghats.
This order comes at a time when non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are expressing concern over the decreasing forest cover in the Kodagu region. NGOs in the region have been protesting against the alleged indiscriminate use of discretionary powers under the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 by Forest Department officials to give permission to coffee growers to fell trees.
In a recent memo to department officials, especially those in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats region, Mr. Ray said preserving the ecosystem and conservation would supersede the right of landowners to fell evergreen trees to make space for cultivating crops. He has asked Territorial Conservators of Forests and Deputy Conservators of Forests to keep the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in mind while deciding on applications seeking permission to fell trees for shade manipulation.
Call for complete ban
The Supreme Court, in its December 1996 judgment on forests in the north-eastern States, highlighted the importance of evergreen forests. The court called for a complete ban on felling trees in such forests.
“Tree felling permission, therefore, should be an exception rather than a rule in forest areas,” Mr. Ray’s order said.
Mr. Ray passed the order on an application filed by K.M. Nazeer seeking permission to fell 339 trees at Munorte village of Madikeri taluk. He cultivates coffee, along with pepper and cardamom, in an area of about 16 hectares. This land is part of virgin forests in the Western Ghats.
The Deputy Conservator of Forests of Virajpet division gave Mr. Nazeer permission in June 2000 to fell and remove 485 trees for shade manipulation for growing coffee in June 2000. This permission was subject to the approval of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests for using the forest road to transport the timber.
When Mr. Nazeer approached the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests at that time, he was given permission to transport some cut and prepared material. As he could not transport the material within the allotted time, he was given a further seven days to do so. Despite this the timber was not lifted and further time was denied. Aggrieved by the decision, Tarikutty Haji, who had general power of attorney on behalf of Mr. Nazeer, approached the Karnataka High Court. The High Court directed the Deputy Conservator of Forests of Virajpet to consider the application.
Trees preserve ecosystem
Denying permission to fell the trees, Mr. Ray observed that the trees were part of a natural evergreen forest, which receives annual rainfall of 3,500 to 4,000 mm. “It is the natural tree growth that has preserved the ecosystem here. Any removal of trees would result in serious soil erosion, landslides, etc.,” the order said.
Referring to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, Mr. Ray pointed out that no permission could be given for shade manipulation in areas that are not under “active” coffee cultivation.
Talking to The Hindu , Mr. Ray said the order would go a long way in stopping the indiscriminate felling of trees in the Western Ghats.
Source : The HinduÂ