The report of the Expert Committee on Modernisation of the Forest Department calls for changes in management strategies, and reversion forest leases and plantations into forests.

The report, submitted to the Forest Minister Benoy Viswam here on Friday, recommends that forest areas leased out for plantations shall be reverted to natural forests once the lease period is over. The teak, eucalyptus, acacia and other plantations with poor growth and stocking need to be clear-felled for replanting and such plantations shall be managed in such a sway that they revert to natural forests in due course.

Plantations in sanctuaries and national parks shall be extracted for reverting such areas to natural forests. Clear felling of plantations along steep terrains shall be discouraged. Mechanisation may be introduced in a phased manner in planting and maintenance operations, logging and in timber depots.

The report further recommends that the use of chemical fertilisers, fungicides, weedicides and insecticides shall be banned within forest areas. The management interventions in forest areas shall be on the basis of their natural functional units namely watersheds and eco-systems. They shall be oriented to conserve soil and water as well as biomass production potential.

The present policy of ban on clear felling and selection felling in the natural forests shall be continued subject to the condition that dead and wind fallen trees from areas other than protected areas can be removed with strict check and monitoring, provided it is economically viable, without constructing additional roads. Dead and wind fallen sandalwood trees shall be extracted.

While undertaking enrichment planting as a part of eco-restoration of degraded forests, the natural regeneration of indigenous species shall not be cut and removed in the name of pre-planting operations such as slash felling. Special schemes may be formulated and implemented for the conservation of high biodiversity value areas, special ecosystems like Myristica swamps and forest tracts having heritage and anthropological uniqueness.

The report calls for review and regulation of eco-tourism activities. Extending eco-tourism to new areas in natural forests may be discouraged. Number of visitors shall be restricted to the carrying capacity of the site. Forest Station System shall be extended to all territorial and wildlife divisions in a phased manner in five years. Section/beat system may be continued for the protection of isolated bits of vested forests or reserved forests.

The report also recommends increased freedom to forest officials in using fire arms against plunderers of forests. “Forest officers shall not be arrested and prosecuted without a magisterial enquiry into the facts and circumstances leading to opening of fire using the official firearms during the course of performance of their official duties.” A State Forest Academy may be established, and new training modules shall be introduced for forest guards.

It also calls for establishment of disaster management squads equipped with rapid response kits in the Department, Forest Minister’s Relief Fund for speedy disbursement of compensation to victims of wildlife attacks and a green panel of advocates with commitment to fight forest cases.

It suggests formation of special survey teams in the Department and also survey of forest boundaries and re-notification of reserves and protected areas with latitude, longitude and altitude. Assistance of National Natural Resources Management System and National Remote Sensing Centre may be used to detect ganja cultivation.

The Forest Management Information System and Geographic Information established under Kerala Forestry Project may be revitalised and the software development for them may be shifted to free and open source platform. Offices down to ranges offices may be networked.

The report urges that the Plan outlay for forestry sector may be enhanced to at least 2.5 per cent of the total Plan outlay. The expert committee consisted of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests T. M. Manoharan, C. K. Sreedharan (Retired IFS Officer, Tamil Nadu), N. Gopinathan (Chief Conservator of Forests) and E. Kunhikrishnan (environmentalist).