A major development is that the Karnataka Forest Department has recommended that Jog Management Authority get prior environment clearances and wildlife clearances for a proposed tourism project at Jog Falls in the Shivamogga District.
It is important that you note that the recommendation does NOT only pertain to the five-star hotel proposal, for which forest diversion is sought, but also the mega tourism activities proposed for the revenue land. This recommendation was made in response to Giridhar Kulkarni, a wildlife conservationist.
KB Shivakumar (deputy commissioner, Shivamogga) was the chief executive officer, Jog Management Authority (user agent). He had submitted a proposal to divert 0.8536 hectares forest land in Nadawada Talakalale Village, Sagar taluk, for the construction a five-star hotel to replace the existing PWD guesthouse.
The Karnataka forest division also recommended the proposal and sent it to the state government on Jul 14, 2021. They requested that the proposal be moved to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to receive in-principle approval pursuant to Forest (Conservation) Act, 80.
Kulkarni submitted detailed objections to Karnataka Biodiversity Board on July 26, 2021. He also requested that the state government, Karnataka Forest Department, Karnataka Forest department, and the integrated regional office for the environment ministry reject the proposal, stating that it is contrary to the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980. In the interest of forest conservation, he also mentioned that a similar proposal was rejected by the ministry in 2014. He said that while the state had given Rs 185 crore for the use agency to construct a 5-star hotel, ropeway and other tourism activity in the area, the present proposal from the user agency seeking to divert forest resources is only for the construction the five-star Hotel.
The standing committee of National Board for Wildlife must approve any other tourism activities that are proposed on nonforest land. This is per EIA Notification 2006 and the guidelines issued by MoEF&CC.
The user agency also sought 18.74 acres of land (exclusions being the area proposed for construction a five star hotel) to develop tourism.
Kulkarni’s objections were cited by the environment ministry, which in August 2021 requested that the state government take appropriate action according to existing rules and regulations. In September 2021 the state government requested a detailed response from forest department, directing it to investigate the objections.
The state government responded to Kulkarni’s objections by granting permission to the office of the principal chief forest conservator (head of forest force), However, the project has been recommended.
The Indian Express has obtained official documents that reveal that the former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), Sanjai Mhan, wrote to the office of an additional chief secretary (forest ecology and environment) on February 21st. He requested that Shivamogga, Jog Management Authority and Shivamogga seek environment clearance and clearance from the National Board for Wildlife before beginning construction of the five-star hotel at Jog Falls. The Sharavathi Valley Lion-tailed Macaque Sanctuary is 10 km from the proposed forest land for diversion. The eco-sensitive zones for the sanctuary have not yet been notified. However, the process of notifying them is ongoing. In the Supreme Court of India 2006 judgment, it was stated that if ESZ is not notified for any wildlife sanctuary, then the area within 10km of that sanctuary should be deemed ESZ automatically.
Consequently, the final opinion states that if the ESZ has not been notified, any area within 10 km of the protected areas boundary is considered its deemed ESZ. Any project that requires environmental clearance must be approved by the National Board for Wildlife’s standing committee. Environmental clearance is required for any project with a built-up area exceeding 20,000 square metres according to the Environmental Protection Act 1986. Jog Management Authority is responsible for deciding whether environmental clearance is required for all developmental activities within 10 km of default ESZ.