Special Correspondent

Bangalore to host next meeting of Forest Ministers of southern States

  • Concern over shortage of funds to increase forest cover
  • Forest Ministers to seek audience with Prime Minister

    Bangalore: The next meeting of Forest Ministers of the five southern States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry will be held in Bangalore next year.

    This and other key suggestions including exchanging intelligence on timber smugglers and poachers; joint conduct of anti-poaching operations; considering national parks and sanctuaries in the region as part of a larger landscape and not disjointed entities; evolving a mechanism that will allow range forest officers posted in border areas to meet on a monthly basis; sharing information on fighting forest fire and making the southern Forest Ministers' meeting an annual affair were mooted at the first conference of its kind, held in Thiruvananthapuram on November 3 and 4.

    Resolution

    Disclosing this information to The Hindu, a source close to Karnataka Forest Minister C. Chennigappa, said that the Forest Ministers (Puducherry was represented by its topmost Forest Department official) had passed a resolution seeking an audience with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh so that they, along with the Chief Ministers, could apprise him of the issues that plagued protection of forests, handicaps in increasing the region's green cover and the urgent need for large amounts of financial assistance from the Centre, which was very low.

    The meeting with the Prime Minister will also focus on matters within the sector that are at times contradictory in nature and have been interpreted differently by different States. There was a groundswell of opinion that without annual and adequate funds from the Centre, it would be unrealistic to expect southern States to achieve the national goal of 33 per cent of forest cover even in the foreseeable future.

    According to an official from the Karnataka Forest Department, the funds now being provided by the Centre were grossly inadequate, and the States were finding it difficult to meet even the basic needs of their Forest Departments such as payment of salary. A subject that was of immense interest, especially to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, was the reason for depletion of sandalwood that has come down from around 3000 tonnes an annum 20 years ago to just over 10 tonnes in 2005-06.

    According to officials, while States such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (which together account for over 90 per cent of all available sandalwood) have laws curbing the felling of sandalwood, Puducherry (which has a number of sandalwood factories) has none.

    "Sandalwood is being smuggled from forests in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and taken to factories in Puducherry. In a spirit of cooperation between the southern States, Puducherry can also enact laws curbing sandalwood smuggling," they said.

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