The trees were auctioned for Rs. 50,000
HASSAN: Environmentalists and nature lovers in Hassan were in for a shock on Wednesday when Deputy Conservator of Forests K.H. Nagaraj informed them that the Forest Department had permitted the felling of 58 trees on the premises of the historical Gandhada Koti (Sandal Fort).
The trees had been auctioned for Rs. 50,000, while each tree would fetch at least Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000. By the time environmentalists arrived at the fort, 28 trees had been cut. Senior journalist R.P. Venkatesh Murthy and president of Jana Sanghatane Parisara Vedike Kishore Kumar and its members staged a dharna in the fort protesting against the felling of trees.
They made it clear that they would continue their protest until the felling of trees was stopped. They also wanted mass plantation of saplings to be undertaken by the Forest Department.
Mr. Nagaraj told the agitators that Minister for Public Works and Energy H.D. Revanna had ordered the felling of the trees to make space for the construction of residential quarters for staff of Hassan Institute of Medical Sciences.
Mr. Murthy said the 12-acre fort was more than 150 years old. Some of the trees were more than 100 years old. The British used the fort for storing sandalwood and for planting sandalwood and other plants.
According to Mr. Murthy, the rules regarding auctioning of trees were not followed. As per the Transparency Act, the auction should be publicised through a notification and advertisements. But there was no public announcement of the auction.
Mr. Murthy and Mr. Kumar said they would intensify their agitation. They wanted the Gandhada Koti to be converted into a mini-forest and said they would not allow the Forest Department to create another concrete jungle.
Residents of Hassan too expressed their shock and appealed to Mr. Revanna not to close this historic fort.