Flora and Fauna

HOW MISUSE OF MAFI PASS HAS LED TO LARGE-SCALE ILLEGAL FELLING OF EVERGREEN TREES IN WESTERN GHATS

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Green Minute News:

In the wake of suspension of 7 frontline forest staff for permitting felling of 150 evergreen Jungle Wood trees in the Balur Reserve Forests (RF) of Chikkamagaluru district, Karnataka, India, a social activist has filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). Receiving a tip off about the large-scale felling of evergreen timber trees in Western Ghats with many being 300 years old, the Karnataka forest department swung into action, seized the timber logs and ordered an inquiry into the issue.

According to activists, a few months back, a coffee estate owner had applied for “Mafi Pass” (that is permit for tree felling) for tree felling in his land. In the aftermath of getting the permit, the owner hired a timber contractor to fell the trees in his estate. However, the contractor felled 150 trees (in the last 2-3 months) not in the coffee estate but in the adjoining Balur Reserve Forest. This included felling of massive, very mature and heavily wooded trees in Mudigere and Kalasa Forest Ranges. 

Some of the tree species that were felled are Nandi, Dhoop, Matti and other timber species. Now how did the felling continue undisturbed in reserve forests for such a long period without the forest officials not having an inkling about it. Now that’s a million-dollar question. Activists who alerted the Conservator of Forests see the collusion of “Timber Mafia” as also forest officials and say the “Mafi Pass” was granted in this case very conveniently without even holding a joint survey of the land for which felling permit was sought. 

COMPLAINT TO ANTI-CORRUPTION BUREAU

Seriously concerned about the loss of precious evergreen trees in Balur Reserve Forest, Dinesh Kallahalli, social activist from Bengaluru filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the additional chief secretary. He told Green Minute, “I have registered a complaint with ACB on February 1st and inquiry is presently going on. I have cited the large-scale involvement of both higher officials and forest field staff in granting permission without a survey. In my complaint, I have also outlined the details – the modus operandi of how Mafi Pass is being rampantly misused to illegally fell trees thereby, destroying the biodiversity rich and World Heritage Site of Western Ghats. In fact, a thorough inquiry is necessitated to unearth the involvement of both officials and the mafia in the decimation of forests in Chikkamagaluru Circle.” 

It was the Deputy Conservator of Forests who permitted felling in Madhugundi and Algadka that falls in Mudigere and Kalasa forest ranges, informs Kalahalli. Now how did this happen? They have openly violated the provisions of the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act and Forest Conservation Act. In fact, all existing norms and Supreme Court orders have been violated and this has been happening for a long time in this verdant district with no action in sight.

INQUIRY INSTITUTED

On their part, forest officials said they have recovered the felled trees and sent it to the government depot and suspended 7 forest staff of both the ranges and further, an inquiry ordered into the issue. 

Sanjai Mohan, Karnataka PCCF and Head of Forest Force informed Green Minute that he had directed the Chikkamagaluru CCF to inquire into the issue. “The moment information was received, we were able to find, seize the logs and send it to the depot. Earlier, in this district, we had this problem of rampant grant of ‘Mafi Pass’ but now the process has been streamlined.” 

The PCCF adds, “Presently, we are using the latest technology and satellite imageries to map the green cover in Chikkamagaluru. In this district, consolidation of forest area is going on. As it is, the green cover in both forest and revenue lands is being properly marked. The process has already started and after the Supreme Court order, the re-drawing of our forests in this district and its marking on maps is going on…”

LAWS ON TREE FELLING

As per Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, 1976 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, there are specific rules and procedures to be followed before granting any felling order. Felling of jungle wood trees in private properties like coffee estates can be done only if there are 350 Arabica coffee plants or 250 Robusta plants in an acre. Further, depending on the girth size and shade parameters, felling is allowed.

The Tree Act further says if permission is given for 100 trees, then at least 75 trees should be left aside in the estate. Also, tree felling in neglected coffee estates or without any coffee plants is not permitted. Those private properties which are adjoining revenue or forest lands should have clear and demarcated boundary with trenches been dug up. In fact, there is a set of guidelines (Format 24 kandike) for felling of jungle wood tree species in coffee estates which have to be followed in toto by the Tree Officer (or the DCF) while granting the Mafi Pass.

Activists lament and conclude illegal felling of trees has been going on for many decades in Western Ghat districts with the open involvement of timber mafia who are a big threat to the conservation of Western Ghats. In this regard, the Mafi Pass has become a convenient tool to grant permission left and right. Since the misuse of existing norms is continuing, the government needs to reframe and come out with strong guidelines and rules for curbing any tree felling activity in the Western Ghats.