The Union environment ministry has directed the office of Karnataka’s additional chief secretary (forest, ecology and environment) to take necessary action with regards to the issue of dropping of different categories of land in the Considered forest list. The ministry took action on Veerendra R Patil, a Shivamogga-based advocate, who accused forest officials of intentionally dropping the kan, jungle and soppinabetta categories of land from their deemed forest list.
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Kan, soppinabetta, and jungle are examples of small evergreen forests found in the Western Ghats, Karnataka. Kumki lands refers to government lands that are adjacent agricultural lands.
“I am directed to enclose herewith a representation dated February 10 received from Veerendra R Patil, Shivamogga. It is understood that the representation concerns the removal of certain land categories such as kan, jungle and sopinabetta from the deemed forest list. As the issues raised in the representation pertains to the State government, it is requested to take necessary action as per extant rules and regulations,” the order dated March 31 from the environment ministry read.
In 1996, the Supreme Court in its interim order issued direction for the cessation of all non-forestry activities within the forest area without the prior approval of the Centre and asserted that the word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning and any area in the government records irrespective of ownership will be regarded as ‘forest’. In 1997, 912,789.96 ha of deemed forests were identified by the Karnataka government’s expert committee.
In order to clear a number of projects proposed in deemed forests, the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 was referred to the state government. The state government reviewed the deemed forest status in 2015 and reduced the area to 498,991.93 ha. The government wrote to the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee on March 13, 2018 to reduce the extent of deemed forests to 330,186.996 ha.
Patil explained that officials from the forest department had deliberately removed several areas of the statutory forests, despite having proper government records, including a village map and land records.
In 1997, the government removed strip plantations and roadside plantations as well as canal bank plantations (from the list of deemed forest). The government will protect encroachers by removing large areas of deemed forest and showing less. He said that the Kan lands of Shivamogga in the Western Ghats are high-quality wooded areas and should be protected.
Jawaid Akhtar, an additional chief secretary, has not yet returned calls.