Task force recommends Article 371(J)-like special status for 11 Western Ghats districts

‘It will guarantee reservations in education and employment for those residing close to forests’

July 03, 2019 11:05 pm | Updated 11:05 pm IST - Bengaluru

BENGALURU - KARNATAKA - 02/08/2017:  River Kali flowing through Kali Tiger Reserve, earlier known as Dandeli-Anshi tiger reserve (DATR), in the Western Ghats region of Uttara Kannada District, in Karnataka. The park is home to several hydroelectric dams and nuclear power stations.    
Photo: K. Murali Kumar

BENGALURU - KARNATAKA - 02/08/2017: River Kali flowing through Kali Tiger Reserve, earlier known as Dandeli-Anshi tiger reserve (DATR), in the Western Ghats region of Uttara Kannada District, in Karnataka. The park is home to several hydroelectric dams and nuclear power stations. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Eleven districts that harbour forests of the Western Ghats should get special status on the lines of Article 371(J) for Hyderabad-Karnataka, recommends the Western Ghats Task Force in its final report submitted to the State government on Wednesday.

The final report, which recommends 33 points of action for the conservation of the Western Ghats, suggests that the State government pursue with the Centre for special status to these districts that have eco-sensitive forests. Special status would guarantee reservations in education and employment for those residing close to forests, states the report.

“This would increase employment opportunities for tribals and forest dwellers in cities outside forests. The development pressure on the forests would subsequently decrease,” said S. Chandrashekar, chairman of the task force. The districts range from Chamarajanagar in the eastern edge of the State to Dakshina Kannada in the coast and upwards till Belagavi, and even includes Dharwad, which hosts a small area of the Western Ghats forest.

Considering that declaration of Article 371(J) for six districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka region involved a decades-old struggle, Mr. Chandrashekar said: “We know it’s a long process, but we strongly recommend it. We have suggested 11 full districts for now, but at least those living in forest areas should be considered for the benefits of special status.”

Among the recommendations is to prohibit new projects in the Western Ghats. Currently, the State and Centre are planning a slew of road, railway, power, and river-diversion projects in the forests of the Ghats. “After the completion of the Yettinahole River Diversion project, there should be no more projects. Projects like the diversion of Sharavathi waters to Bengaluru should not be allowed,” said Mr. Chandrashekar.

The report recommends the regulation of heavy earthmovers and machinery through permits and mandatory installation of GPS, revision of the sand mining policy to exclude areas in the Western Ghats, conservation of sacred groves, development of an eco-tourism policy, establishment of elephant corridors, among others.

Forest Minister Satish Jarkiholi, who accepted the final report, said the recommendations would be studied before implementation. “On the issue of special status, it will have to get the consent of the Chief Minister and the State cabinet before it can reach the Centre,” he said.

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