There is need for comprehensive inquiry into cases of massive tree felling in Kodagu district of Karnataka. In the background of large-scale illegal (Virajpet felling scam) and permitted felling of trees (for linear structures) in this eco-sensitive district (which is the birthplace of Cauvery), activists call for a complete survey of tree cover loss due to permitted and incidents of illegal felling in Kodagu district in the last few decades.
A recent report by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) highlights the massive reduction of green cover in the Cauvery basin over the past five decades. Such destruction of forest wealth, threatening the very fundamental ecology of Karnataka and of the entire region, has been happening since decades in all the states spanning the Western Ghats. Further, the water security has become a major issue for these states as indicated by the massive reduction in average rainfall pattern and the inflows to the reservoirs.
It is not just the Virajpet division in Kodagu district – inquiry is needed for other divisions especially in the Western Ghat bound districts of Karnataka, they add.
In the past three decades, Kodagu, an ecologically fragile district has lost lakhs of trees in both forest, coffee estates and other areas resulting in floods, drought, landslides and change in climatic patterns. Therefore, such incidents of tree felling should be thoroughly investigated and action initiated against conniving forest officials.
RISING ILLEGAL TREE FELLING
Trees are not just being felled for Linear projects in Kodagu district but also being chopped for other reasons by corrupt officials, stress activists.
In fact, the incident of 66 ancient plus mother trees in Kutta village, Virajpet taluk being illegally ordered for felling is one of the most shocking incidents in recent years. This happened in a district forest that was part of the buffer zone and eco- sensitive zone and elephant corridor of the Nagarhole National Park and Wyanad wildlife sanctuary.
As per existing rules, permission has to be taken from the forest department for felling of reserved trees like teak, sandalwood, rosewood & others grown in private and leased lands. However, a higher number of trees were sanctioned for felling than the applicant had submitted for.
ANCIENT TREES CHOPPED
Investigations into one of the 41 trees felled with a 2.2 metre girth (whose stump disc was given to Institute of Wood Science & Technology) has revealed that the massive teak tree was 171 plus/minus 5-years-old.
Now in this region, 66 Ancient plus mother trees were illegally ordered to be felled that too in a district forest abounding Nagarahole and Wayanad which is home to tigers, elephants and other key species.
Investigations carried out by a four-member team led by Saurab Kumar, IFS found a series of violations & lapses. The team listed the following lapses and violations – files incomplete, application errors, absence of revenue opinion, improper revenue opinion, old revenue opinions, cutting order errors, mismatch of signatures, joint survey errors, data mismatch, errors in land status, cutting order errors, etc.
Speaking to Green Minute, Col C P Muthanna, former President Coorg Wildlife Society & conservationist said, “The Virajpet large scale felling scam is a taint on the forest department. Presently, we have honest officers, so illegal felling has come to a stop. Things are under control now. It all depends on who comes to the post of the DCF – if he or she is clean, then no illegalities can happen. The earlier DCF was close to politicians who thrived on illegal felling and sand mining and so, the district lost precious tree cover.”
A SAGA OF CONNIVANCE
Expressing serious concern, tree experts say Karnataka government should initiate serious action against conniving forest officials in the aftermath of illegal Teak tree felling in the coffee estate of M N Ramesh (Survey No: 76/35, 76/1AP1). A saga of connivance has been revealed wherein originally sought permission for felling in a coffee estate had been inflated from 6 to 66 teak trees. Forest officials say many such cases of illegal felling of ancient trees have been taking place in connivance with some officials in this district.
Inquiry into Pemmaiah’s encroachment of Survey No: 76/1 has shown how 21 teak trees that were more than 100-years-old were felled illegally. Local forest frontline staff made serious allegations against the concerned DCF and how teak trees abounding the two wildlife reserves of Nagarhole and Wyanad were ruthlessly felled resulting in immense ecological loss to the district and of course, Karnataka state.
Such incidents have been unearthed only in the last three years but there are many, many more and they need to be investigated comprehensively. It is high time the state government woke up and took necessary action against illegal incidents of tree felling in Kodagu district and the state, activists stressed.
They further questioned, “How could such an incident take place? The inquiry into this incident has revealed the modus operandi – although permission was sought for felling of six teak trees, it was given for 66 trees. A perusal of all documents and site inspections has revealed the forging of signatures & submission of fictitious documents, transportation of precious wood lots – where in 75 per cent more wood lot was felled than actually sought. They have gone against all existing rules and regulations for tree protection in the state.”
The happenings in Madikeri division are an eye opener and the government should immediately put in place a joint mechanism system for tree protection.
A joint survey is needed to ascertain how many trees – young, old and ancient teak, sandalwood, rosewood and other trees have been felled in Kodagu so as to save the birthplace of River Cauvery from unprecedented ecological degradation and disasters.