An error committed by officials and ignored by lawmakers before approving the amendment to the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act 1976 has allegedly led to large scale felling of age-old mango trees in the Western Ghat region.
The amended Act passed in the Belagavi legislature session provides for felling of certain varieties of trees without taking the forest department’s permission. Based on this amendment, the Department of Forests issued the order on March 3, 2015 exempting 26 species of trees from the Karnataka Forest Rules 1969. Accordingly, there is no need to take the forest official’s permission to cut down the trees enlisted in the order.
However, environmentalists alleged that inclusion of mango in this list resulted in indiscriminate felling of huge mango trees. Western Ghats Task Force former chairman Anant Hegde Ashisar said officials should have enlisted only the grafted mango trees and not the wild mango. Taking benefit of this error, timber contractors are felling wild mango trees in large numbers in the Western Ghats region. Moreover, mango is among the tree species which have been declared as heritage trees by the Karnataka Biodiversity Board. How has the Forest Department exempted it from the Karnataka Forest Rules 1969, he asked.
Mr. Ashisar said forest officials have committed one more mistake by including tree varieties of Hebbevu (Melica Dubia), Ranjalu, Betta and Kadudhoopa into this list. The Act was amended to exempt some horticulture tree species to help farmers. But these three varieties are forest species. It would provide one more opportunity to plunder forests. The government should immediately withdraw this order and send top forest officials to the Western Ghats region for spot inspection, Mr. Ashisar said.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests G. V. Sugur told The Hindu that the issue has been brought to his notice. Environmentalists who raised the issue have been asked to give a representation, which will be forwarded to the government, Mr. Sugur said.