Special Correspondent

Bifurcation notification issued

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Government has issued a notification bifurcating the Science, Technology and Environment Department and bringing some subjects handled by the Forest, Water Resources and the Health and Family Welfare Departments under the new Department of Environment.

Subjects such as administration of all Acts relating to environmental protection, Kerala State Pollution Control Board, river conservation programmes, environmental issues relating to forests and wildlife and environment awareness creation, eco-clubs and allied matters will now be under the Department of Environment handled by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan.

Of these, the Pollution Control Board (PCB) was under the charge of Health Minister P. K. Sreemathy and the river conservation programmes were under the charge of Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran. Forest Minister Benoy Viswom was handling the other subjects.

The Chief Minister changed the distribution of business among departments of the Secretariat without holding any consultations in the Left Democratic Front. The Ministers concerned have not publicly reacted to the change.

However, there is murmur of protests in the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Forest Department. As the Forest Department is engaged in the enforcement of forest laws, it receives more complaints than praise from the general public. Environment awareness programmes and eco-clubs are a means for the department to become popular with the people.

Some forest officials are worried that the Chief Minister will be playing a supervisory role with the administration of Acts and environmental issues relating to forests and wildlife in his hands. The Forest (Conservation) Act, for example, provides for punishment of forest officials if the department lost any forest land to encroachers. This provision has never been enforced against any forest official, as the Department itself is the enforcement agency.

Now, Mr. Achuthanandan can choose to enforce the provision besides intervening in many other issues.

The Science, Technology and Environment Department was bifurcated by the Oommen Chandy Government in January this year and a Minister put in charge of Environment and Forests.

However, when Mr. Achuthanandan assumed office a few months later, he retained Environment with Science and Technology. While the CPI protested against this, some environmental organisations lamented the loss of a budding Department of Environment.

The Environment Department will now be in charge of all matters relating to environment and allied matters dealt with by the nodal department, administration of Biodiversity Act and Rules, Kerala State Biodiversity Board and allied matters, climate change and allied matters, environmental awards, environment research and development and environmental information system, in addition to the items taken over from the other Ministers.

The Science and Technology Department will handle Kerala State Council for Science and Technology and related matters.