A high-level committee, comprising officials of the Forest, Agriculture and Revenue Departments, constituted to examine the issues under the provisions of Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forests (TNPPF) Act 1949, will submit its report to the government by April.

Forest Department sources said the committee headed by an officer in the rank of Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Conservation Act) visited 11 districts in the State and recorded the grievances of private patta holders.

The farmers wanted amendments to the existing Act whereby they could look at changing the crop for cultivation, get permission for felling trees in their property, and get permission for sale or lease of their land and growing of crops and trees in their land.

A senior Forest Department official said it was for the first time a high-level committee was formed. The State Forest Minister, while moving the demand for grant for the Forest department for 2012-13, made the announcement that the government will constitute a committee to look into the issues under the TNPPF Act of 1949. The government order issued on September 3, 2012 said the committee must submit its report within four months from the date of issue of this order.

Conservationists and nature lovers have, however, requested the Forest Department to uphold the TNPPF Act 1949. Tamil Nadu Green Movement, in a letter to the Chairman of the Committee, said the Act was enacted to prevent indiscriminate destruction of private forests with the customary and prescriptive rights therein and for certain other purposes.

The Act is important especially in the Nilgiris district, which is rich in floral and faunal diversity, which are highly endemic. Protected areas such as Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Mukuruthy National Park and crucially important reserve forests of Nilgiri North are flanked by private forests, which offered landscape connectivity to the animals. Environmentalists in the district have constantly relied upon this Act from time to time to prevent illegal activities such as tree felling and construction of buildings.

Reviewing the functionality of the Act with a view to reducing its vigour or to repeal the same at the instance of a few persons, who claimed that they were affected due to implementation of this Act, is purely based on personal and vested interests, the letter said. The Act has been useful in preserving and protecting the forests and tree cover in various parts of the State, the letter noted.