CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government on Monday told the Madras High Court it would immediately start removing invasive plant species from forest areas, and to begin with, 700 hectares have been identified in core tiger reserves for a pilot-scale project. Additional Chief Secretary Supriya Sahu made the submission before a divisional bench of Justices V Bharathidasan and N Satish Kumar.
Sahu said a proposal was forwarded to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate seeking `10 crore under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund, which is pending approval. On the other hand, Rs 6 crore was received from NABARD.
She said a draft policy was put in the public domain inviting comments, and seven teams were formed and dispatched to MP, Telangana, Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Karnataka to study how they deal with invasive species. The court has instructed Sahu to immediately start the pilot project with the available funds and submit a progress report on March 18.
Removal of invasive plant species from forests is a herculean task, in which no Indian State has managed to succeed so far. Tamil Nadu, including the Western Ghats, is among the chief invasion hotspots in the country. A recent compendium of plants of TN recorded 6,723 taxa (species); 2,459 are non-native alien species, comprising nearly 36.6 per cent of the State’s flora.
An expert committee formed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court sent a questionnaire to all forest divisions to report their estimates at the range level of the area under 17 listed invasive alien species. According to its report, the area under five major invasive alien species is estimated to be 2,68,100 hectares. Lantana camara was found in 1,85,000 ha, Prosopis juliflora (56,000 ha), Acacia mearnsii (wattle, 22,400 ha), Senna spectabilis (2,400 ha), and Opuntia sp. (2,300 ha). Meanwhile, the Invasive Alien Species Policy drafting committee said the area infested would be as large as 3,18,000 ha.
Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj told the court, along with the removal, restocking the cleared area with native grass/plant species and maintaining it for the next three years would be crucial for the success of the project and the forest department is on the job. Advocate T Mohan, appointed by the court as the amicus curiae, pointed out that removal and restoration should be conducted under the direct supervision of the expert committee.