Illegal tree cutting in Kodagu: Panel ignores NGT order, yet to punish errant officials
Trees were cut in Kodagu 17 years ago; politicians, officials, retired defence personnel involved; panel given month’s time to act
BENGALURU: It has been 17 years since trees were cut ‘illegally’ in Kodagu, and an appeal was made to take action against the erring forest department officials and politicians involved, but things have not yet moved. Furthermore, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had given three months’ time for the joint committee, set up to look into the matter, to hold a meeting and take action. Yet, nothing was done.
The orders were issued by NGT on December 13, 2022, on Writ Petition 3388/2009 (MA 1379/2017) pertaining to felling of trees on November 3, 2006, in Kodagu and other districts of Western Ghats. The case was earlier heard in the Karnataka High Court.
In its order, the NGT had noted that the Kodagu Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) and field officers had taken advantage of government letters and circulars, and given permission to fell trees in eco-sensitive and forest areas rich in biodiversity, without realising the ecological consequences. The NGT also noted that Supreme Court directions were not being followed, and called for a detailed review and guidelines to be issued, to ensure there is no further forest destruction.
Ironically, on December 2, 2008, when the principal chief conservator of forests directed tree officers and the Tree Authority of Kodagu not to give any tree felling permission, the officials even stopped giving permission for felling trees in cases of shade regulation in coffee plantations. Noting this, the NGT ordered that felling of trees within coffee plantations for shade regulation can be given by the tree officer.
Even as the NGT disposed of the case, the committee has not yet acted upon the directions, pointed out experts and petitioners. They said the area which was to be assessed has greened back again due to a long time lapse. Thus, a field survey now is a futile exercise.
Reacting to this, a committee member, seeking anonymity, said: “The committee met twice. Agreed that the report has been delayed, but since it is a first-time case in the forest department and in Karnataka, we are being cautious in our report. A delay of a month or so does not matter, as we don’t want to punish the innocent. The committee will not just prepare the report and submit it to the NGT, but also has the power to take legal action. This is a complex case, not just because of the parties (forest staffers, MLCs, MLAs and retired defence personnel) involved, but the area in contention, which is already facing the wrath of various climatic and man-made disasters.”