MoEF issues directive to State Forest Department

The ongoing construction work undertaken by the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) on the Pookode hills in Wayanad district faced a setback on Tuesday when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) directed the State Forest Department to ensure that no action was taken in contravention of the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980.

In his letter to the Principal Secretary (Forests), MoEF Forest Conservation Director B.K. Singh asked the State government to initiate an inquiry into the ‘environmental violations’ at the construction site and submit a detailed report to the Ministry.

The regional office of the Ministry in Bangalore would also conduct a detailed inquiry. The Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (Central), in Bangalore, would conduct the parallel inquiry, the letter said.

The Ministry was acting on a complaint filed by the Kochi-based environmental organisation, One Earth One Life detailing the ‘severe damage caused by the construction activities to Pookode hills, which constitute a key portion of the ecosystem of the Kabani river basin.’

Petitioner’s contention

In his petition, One Earth One Life legal cell director Tony Thomas said large-scale construction was going on in a reserve forest area in violation of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act. “Though the land was handed over to a tribal society for a dairy project, it was not de-reserved. The diversion of 531.1675 hectares of land has been taken up without the Ministry’s approval,” Mr. Thomas said.

The veterinary college was undertaking work, including the construction of a helipad, by destroying marshes and highly fragile swamps, he said.

The State Forest Department had earlier objected to the works stating that the land was part of Pookottumala, a belt linking the forests of Wayanad and Kozhikode districts. The vulnerable eco-system was highly fragile and susceptible to degradation, the department had stated.

“The land is an integral part of the Kurichiarmala watershed involving a number of small rivers and streams which form major tributaries of the Kabani. It is located at an altitude of about 1,000 m above MSL having moderate to steep slope. Floristically, the area is extremely rich with impressive rate of endemism and high diversity in species, genetic, and ecosystem levels. Construction work will cause ecological degradation and imbalance,” Divisional Forest Officer, South Wayanad, P. Dhanesh Kumar said.

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