Kerala will seek establishment of a green dividend for conservation of natural resources and biodiversity at the conference of Forest Ministers in New Delhi on Tuesday.

It would also seek institution of green benches in the Supreme Court and High Courts to exclusively deal with cases involving environmental issues.

The Forest Minister Benoy Viswam told The Hindu that States like Kerala should be rewarded for protecting and conserving forests and biodiversity. The Centre should provide funds to States in tune with the extent of their contribution in protecting forests and preserving biodiversity.

The Minister said that he would be opposing the tendency to allow private agencies into ecotourism activities in forests and lease out forests for mining and other industrial activities with view to get allocations from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund. Instead of entrusting eco-tourism development to private agencies, States could try the Kerala model of participatory management through eco-development committees of stake holders.

Preservation and protection of forests was more important than liberal release of Aforestration Fund by the Central Government. Corporate capital has no regard for biodiversity. The process will lead to unending theft of natural resources, he warned.

The Minister will seek funds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme for afforestation and other works undertaken by Vana Samrakshana Samithis (Forest Protection Committees) and Eco-Development Committees. He would also press for the strengthening of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in Kochi and legislation to control the processing and marketing of sandalwood.

Sandalwood from Kerala was now being smuggled into other States for processing. This needed to be checked. If legislation to check the trade in sandalwood could not be put in place immediately, the Central government should issue appropriate orders to check the trade. Better coordination between forest officials, police and other agencies was needed to check the trade in wildlife products, Mr. Viswam said.