Kerala: Forest Bill and Forest Mafia

The Hindu, December 27, 2003, Saturday

Governor sends back Forest Bill

By Our Special Correspondent

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 26. The Governor, Sikander Bakht, is understood to have sent back to the Government the Bil for the takeover of ecologically fragile lands, passed by the Assembly on August 7 last, since he found it inconsistent with Central conservation laws. He has asked the Government to send it to the President for his assent.

The main complaint against the Bill, titled the 'Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Bill, 2003', was about the definition it gave to the term 'forests'. The Bill was to replace an ordinance first promulgated in 2000 and reissued several times. Under the ordinance, an extent of over 25,000 acres of ecologically fragile forest land was taken over by the Government from private individuals to ensure its conservation.

Environmentalists and the Opposition had warned that the Bill, the manner in which it reached the Assembly from the Select Committee of the House, would force the Government to surrender to private individuals a big chunk of the forests taken over from them under the ordinance. It was also argued that most of these individuals had taken possession of the forests through fraudulent methods. Despite vociferous protests from the Opposition, the Government had gone ahead with the Bill.

In September, the Leader of the Opposition, V. S. Achuthanandan, had addressed a letter to the Governor point out the 'hidden traps' in the Bill and its legal flaws and requesting him not to sign it. Any land which is cultivated with crops like coffee, cardamom, coconut or areacanut cannot be described as a forest according to the definition given in the Bill, even if it has predominantly natural vegetation and is ecologically fragile due to its proximity to protected forests. Also, if there is even a hut pitched in the land, it ceases to be a forest, as per the provisions of theBill.

The only thing a forest encroachers has to do to wriggle out of the Bill's provision is to plant a few saplings of these trees/plants in the land, or pitch a hut there, it was argued. He needs to produce no records to show how the saplings or the hut had appeared there.

The Supreme Court had, in its landmark judgment in the writ petition, Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. Union of Indian in 1995, had defined forests like this: "The word forest must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. This description covers all statutorily recognized forests, whether or designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Forest Conservation Act. The term 'Forest land', occurring in Section 2, will not only include 'forest' as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any area recorded as forest in the Government record irrespective of ownership."

It was more or less the same definition that the term 'forests' was given in the original ordinance. The Opposition's argument was that the major alterations made in this definition when the Bill was passed would make it legally unacceptable because of the Supreme Court judgment.

Another 'trap' was the final clause in the Bill virtually nullifying all the vesting done under the ordinance. The 'custodian' of forests, which in this case is the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, is given the powers to even suo motu review all the vestings done under the ordinance and revoke the orders if necessary. Mr. Achuthanandan had argued that this clause was introduced to help the 'forest mafia'.

The Bill also has a provision for paying compensation for even the natural vegetation occurring in the forests taken over from the private parties. In the ordinance, which was to replaced by the Bill, the payment of compensation was restricted to permanent improvements made by him or his predecessor in the ecologically fragile land.






CPI probe into 'forest deals' sought

The Hindu, December 27, 2003, Saturday

By Our Special Correspondent

Kochi, Dec. 26. The environmental activist, John Peruvanthanam, has urged the Government to order a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged corruption in the Forest Department.

Mr. Peruvanthanam, the convener of the Paristhithi Samrakshana Ekopana Samiti, said that the Government had lost some 1,400 forest-related court cases because of the collusion between the forest mafia and the Government lawyers. This had led to the loss of 30,000 hectares of forest. He claimed that 80,000 ha of forest had been encroached upon by the land-grabbers since 1977, but the authorities concerned had shut their eyes to this pillage of public property.

It may be noted that Eculogue-2003 - an environmental dialogue among journalists, activist and conservation official - held at Munnar recently had asked the Government to "institute a comprehensive inquiry into the reasons why all the forest-related cases are lost in the courts".

It had noted that over the past two decades the Government had lost almost all the forest-related cases in the court. "There is a complaint that this is either due to the negligience of the Government advocates or because of their collusion with the forest mafia," the Ecologue had pointed out.






Kerala : Adivasis To Launch Agitation Against TreeFelling

Sunday, December 28, 2003 12:37 PM

New Indian Express, December 28, 2003, Sunday

Adivasis to launch agitation against felling of trees

KOCHI: The Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha on Saturday said it would launch massive agitations against the Forest Department's 'clear felling' of trees in over 500 hectares of land in the upper Bhavani regions, near the Silent Valley.

At a news conference here, C K Janu, president, Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, alleged that the Japan-aided project to restore environmental serenity of Attapaddy was now being used by officials to divert funds.

The 'clear felling' of trees in the upper Bhavani regions will spoil the environmental serenity of the area which is home to many rare breeds of birds and trees. The deforestation in this area may eventually lead to drying out of the Bhavani Lake. The 3,000-acre forest land is inhabited by tribal communities from 17 'uoors' or habitats.

''They are trying to wipe away the Adivasi population by cutting down our traditional area under possession,'' Janu said.

According to the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, trees in five acres of forest land have already been cut down. Trees in the traditional land in 'Anavayu ooru' belonging to the 119-year-old Mudha Moopan and 'Thadikkundu ooru' are being cut down. 'Mudha Moopan' is also the head of 108 tribal leaders. He was also appointed as the head of the Moopan's Council, which was formed by the Kerala Government.

''The Government was cheating the tribals by forming the Moopan's Council and this has become evident by their encroachment of Mudha Moopan's land,'' Janu said. She also alleged that the Rs-250 crore loan that has been sanctioned by the Japan Government for the restoration works in Attappady is being unappropriatedly handled by Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS).

The atrocities against the Adivasis are continuing in the Attappady area with the police and excise officials conducting raids in the name of 'ganja hunt' even as the real mafia is being protected, Janu alleged.

The AGMS is also planning to approach the court on the issue.





Forest Habitat Working Group Director

The Forest Habitats Working Group Director is a new, estimated 12-month position developed to lead The Nature Conservancy in setting outcome-based conservation goals, including priority conservation strategies and places, for all of the world’s Forest biomes – called Major Habitat Types. Forest goals will be informed by global scientific assessments of habitat status, threat and conservation progress, and calibrated against advancements to be made through TNC and partner efforts. The objective of this position is to conduct an expansive and inclusive process that builds both institutional support and partner engagement for the conservation of the world’s forest ecoregions.

Responsibilities include: 1) leading a science-driven assessment of each Forest Major Habitat Type that culminates in an authoritative “state of the habitat” report; 2) conducting a conservation gap analysis to identify priority areas and priority strategies; 3) articulating initial habitat goals for TNC; 4) facilitating the establishment of longer-range goals for relevant TNC programs; 5) contributing to a framework to help inform Conservancy FY06 planning; and 6) making structural or process-related recommendations relevant to implementation of these goals.

The Forest Habitats Working Group Director will work with four other working group directors to lead TNC in setting comprehensive conservation goals for all Major Habitat Types. Within that broader framework, the Forest Director will provide overall leadership on behalf of TNC for Forest Major Habitat Type goal setting. It is conceivable that TNC might co-lead each process with individuals from other institutions. Specific duties require building and managing a small core ad hoc team of partners, key TNC staff, senior managers, trustees/Board of Governors, and Global Priority Group (GPG) staff. The Forest Director is expected to work with other habitat working group directors to identify crosscutting issues and ensure consistent methods. The Director will work closely with the GPG on data management and analysis, mapping, and the overall process. The Director ensures the goal setting process for forest habitats remains within budget. The Director of Global Priorities supervises the Forest Director.





Stop tree felling at Attappady: AGM

By Our Staff Reporter

KOCHI DEC. 27. The Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGM) has warned of launching an agitation against the illegal felling of trees in the Attappady forest belt.

Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, the AGM leaders, C.K. Janu and M. Geethanandan, said they would take legal action if the Government failed to take steps to stop the deforestation of the remaining forest tracts of Attappady. If the present situation continues, the whole of Attappady would become uninhabitable for everyone including the tribal people.

They alleged that the afforestation activities being conducted in the tribal belt through the Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS) were only to hoodwink the tribal people. On the pretext of destroying ganja plantations, the police, AHADS officials and environmentalists were looting the Adivasi hamlets.

They said that tree felling was taking place even in the land belonging to Mudda Mooppan, the head of the Mooppans' Council formed by the Government years ago with a view to exerting control over the tribal people. The AGM leaders said they would cooperate with the CBI inquiry into the Muthanga incidents despite complaints on the treatment meted out to the tribal people during the inquiry.




Achieving conservation in Human Inhabited Protected Areas

The debate over people in parks has been a fiery one, yet one thing has become clear: Human Inhabited Protected Areas (HIPAs) are a reality of the conservation landscape. Protected area managers and policy-makers acknowledge that areas of high conservation value are already a home and subsistence base for local communities, and are attempting to incorporate these communities in conservation planning. The challenge that remains is how to achieve conservation in HIPAs. Although formally HIPAs are a relatively new phenomenon, some preliminary conclusions about what works and what does not can now be drawn. Major efforts to integrate communities within protected areas have been underway for the last decade, providing time for reflection and analysis of empirical data. Other protected areas that incorporate local community participation may also prove highly instructive for identifying the effective elements to conservation in HIPAs. The Yale Chapter of the International Society of Tropical Foresters will convene all sides of the debate to identify constructive lessons in the  effort to create Human-Inhabited Protected Areas of lasting conservation value. Social and natural scientists, resource managers, policy-makers, community leaders and other interested parties will come together to share their experiences dealing with this challenge. We hope the conference will stimulate debate on a range of topics, including but not limited to such questions as:

What constitutes success and how is it measured? We encourage the submission of abstracts based upon primary research, or personal or institutional experience. Persons selected will present full papers at the conference, and typically have the opportunity to publish their work in a peer reviewed journal as part of the proceedings. Although the focus of the conference will be on the tropics, we welcome relevant experiences from around the world. Abstracts should be a maximum of 500 words. All correspondence will be addressed to the principal author.  In your response, please include the following: . Name(s) of the author(s).



Wild Orissa to Participate in the biennial Tiger/Leopard Count 2004

The biennial tiger/leopard census/count 2004 h is going to be conducted by the state forest department in the state of Orissa from the 5th January 2004 to 9th January 2004. Wild Orissa, an active pro-wildlife organization, would be participating in the above census in a big way. Like on the past occasions members of Wild Orissa would be traveling into the deep forests to look for signs of the presence of tigers, Panthera tigris, and leopards, Panthera pardus, in the wild. The numbers of Tigers and Leopards are enumerated in this manner at regular intervals. The last such exercise was conducted during the year 2002. The Pug Impression Pad method would be employed for counting tigers and leopards.

For a background on Wild Orissa’s past participation in tiger/leopard censuses in the state of Orissa the following data are being furnished: -

(1) 1997- 2 members Similipal Tiger Reserve
(2) 1998- 2 members Similipal Tiger Reserve
(3) 2000- 2 members Similipal Tiger Reserve
(4) 2002- 4 members Similipal Tiger Reserve

The participation of the members of Wild Orissa is to associate and assist the officials and staff of the state forest department Orissa in counting tigers and is done in a purely voluntary manner. The tiger census/counts by Wild Orissa is part of the organisation’s ongoing tiger conservation programme initiated since 1997. The involvement of the members of Wild Orissa assists the organization in devolving plans and action points for the future tiger conservation initiatives at various levels. As part of this tiger conservation programme this year also the following areas are being covered during the 2004 tiger/leopard count: -

(A) Bonai Forest Division 2 members
(B) Satkosia Gorge & Baisipalli Wildlife Sanctuaries 6 members (Mahanadi Wildlife Division)

As per Wild Orissa’s tiger conservation programme surveys in remote forest areas have been carried out in the state. Such surveys have been carried out in the forest areas of Satkosia Gorge, Baisipalli, Sunabeda, Debrigarh, Phulbani, Berbera, Kotgarh, Ghumsur, Kalinga, Ushakothi, Nayagarh, etc. in the past. The surveys have thrown up excellent findings for charting out a course on tiger conservation in this state. In an attempt to draw the attention of various quarters and government departments on the need for more intensive tiger conservation efforts in the state of Orissa, for the first time in this state a National Symposium on “Conservation of Wild Tigers in Orissa” was organized by Wild Orissa during the early part of this year 2003. Representatives from all over the state as well as a few from the union government level attended the 2-day event inaugurated by His Excellency The Governor of Orissa. Many recommendations emerged after this event, some of the c! rucial ones being: -

1. Biodiversity conservation in general and tiger and other endangered floral and faunal species in particular have been the driving force behind the creation of Protected Areas. Rich tiger habitats outside and away from Simlipal also should be brought under the umbrella of Project Tiger for execution of planned developmental activities and implementations with monitoring and evaluation. Specific recommendation is for immediate notification of “Satkosia –Baisipalli” (recently cleared by the Project Tiger Steering Committee) in central Orissa as a Tiger Reserve.

2. Sunabeda Sanctuary harbours the second highest number of tigers after Simlipal, i.e. 24, in the state of Orissa. This patch of forests is contiguous with the Udanti-Sitanadi sanctuaries in Chhatisgarh through the Khariar forests, and with Udanti-Sitanadi having been cleared for inclusion under the Project Tiger scheme by the Steering Committee, there is an urgent need for placing the Sunabeda forests under the Project Tiger scheme. The specific recommendation in this regard is for immediate submission of proposal by the state government for Sunabeda. These contiguous patches are potential rich habitats for Hard Footed Barasingha and Wild Buffalo.

3. Over the years, the Protected Area network has expanded to various forest types and biodiversity locations. The symposium focussed on the status of tiger population and potential areas needing priority for protection, conservation and improvement of habitat. It strongly recommends notifying the forests of ‘Narayanpatna’, Gupteswar, ‘Gandhamardhan’, ‘Kapilash’, ‘Malayagiri’ and ‘Chandrapur’ as sanctuaries.

4. The contiguous forests of Baliguda, Kotgarh-Subarnagiri, Ghumsur, Boudh having a presence of 20 tigers, should be taken into consideration while formulating plans for any developmental activity in the region affecting forestland.

5. The State Wildlife Advisory Board has not been convened for a long time. With the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act in force, the ‘State Wildlife board’ should be expeditiously constituted for its functions.

6. The second tiger crisis due to international demand for tiger skins, bones and other parts is looming large. There is need to establish a ‘Forensic Laboratory’ in Orissa for wildlife crimes. Further there is a need to establish State and District level Committees for collaboration and co-ordination with State and Central Enforcement agencies for intelligence sharing and for prevention and detection of wildlife crimes.

Wild Orissa has been campaigning at various levels since it’s inception in the year 1997 for inclusion of the Satkosia Gorge-Baisipalli forest areas and the Sunabeda-Khariar forests under the Project Tiger Scheme of the Government of India. Finally the Steering Committee on Project Tiger of Government has short listed Satkosia Gorge-Baisipalli forest areas for inclusion under the Project Tiger Scheme during the 10th 5-year plan. As part of Wild Orissa’s tiger conservation programme certain tiger conservation actiovities have been initiated in tiger reserves located outside the state of Orissa also, like Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, etc.