‘The biggest threat to Western Ghats is forest fragmentation’

Environmentalists expect the new Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology B. Ramanath Rai — the first politician from Dakshina Kannada to get the forest portfolio — to save the Western Ghats, a global bio-diversity hotspot, from further deterioration in the State.

With thick forest cover, the Western Ghats in the State is spread across Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada, Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Hassan, Kodagu, Mysore and Chamrajnagar districts.

Two conflicting reports

Mr. Rai has taken charge at a time when conservation of the ghats has become a vexed issue with two reports — one by ecologist Madhav Gadgil-headed panel and another by the former ISRO chairman K. Kasturirangan’s high-level working group (HLWG) — differing with each other on conserving the ghats.

Environmentalists have high hopes from Mr. Rai, a six-term MLA, on taking effective steps to save the ghats.

K. Ullas Karanth, Director for Science Asia Wildlife Conservation Society and Director, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, told The Hindu: “Some of the most innovative conservation initiatives in Karnataka, which put the State ahead of the nation in wildlife and nature conservation were the contribution of K.H. Patil, who became the Forest Minister in 1972. His radical reforms, such as establishment of a dozen new wildlife reserves, drastic curtailment of forest exploitation, prevention of forest encroachments, support of efficient clean officers, cancellation of industrial leases were all revolutionary moves.”

K.H. Patil mould

He said that even Indira Gandhi borrowed a leaf from Mr. Patil’s book to introduce the Forest Conservation Act at the national level, which today is a bulwark protecting forests.

“I earnestly hope that Mr. Rai, who has a good record of public service, will also be a Forest Minister in the K.H. Patil mould. I am happy someone from my home town is the Forest Minister, and, I wish him the very best,” Mr. Karanth said.

Niren Jain, coordinator, Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation, said: “The single most important threat to the Western Ghats is ‘forest fragmentation’ due to haphazard development and the presence of numerous settlements deep inside the forests. We hope the new forest minister takes this urgent issue on a priority by consolidating the last remaining large chunks of forests and satisfying the demands of thousands of forest dwellers demands for compensation to shift outside the forests.”

He said that the new minister should have a “regional/ spatial planning approach” for planning alignment of infrastructure projects (like pipelines, roads, transmission lines, cutting across critical forest areas to avoid conflict with developers and other govt departments.

Mr. Jain said that today the Forest Department at the bottom level was understaffed and lacked enough field level staff like guards. He should “revitalise the forest protection force.”

Dinesh Holla, an avid trekker in the Western Ghats, said that the minister should not allow any hydel power projects on the ghats. Mr. Rai should consult environmental experts before taking any decision on the protection of forests.

G.N. Ashokvardhana, honorary wildlife warden, Dakshina Kannada, said that Mr. Rai should not allow the diversion of the Netravathi as proposed by the earlier governments.

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