The Madras High Court on September 26 called for monthly progress reports from all district Collectors in the State with respect to steps taken by the village panchayats for eradication seemai karuvelam(prosopis juliflora), an exotic and invasive species considered harmful to the ecology, and replacing them with native species.
A special Division Bench of Justices N. Sathish Kumar and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy ordered that the first of such reports must be filed before the court on November 2. The Bench also issued comprehensive directions with respect to eradication of seemai karuvelam from the forests and waterbodies spread across the State.
The judges recorded the submission of the Forest Department that it had successfully completed the pilot project of removing the invasive species from 200 hectares of forest land in Aanamalai, Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam tiger reserves and directed it to move forward and remove the species from all other forest areas.
The Department was also directed to grant permission to the private landowners in the forest areas to remove the exotic species from their properties and sell them either for firewood or other purposes. The judges insisted on clearing the forests of all exotic and invasive species and replacing them with shola forests.
Removal of seemai karuvelam form waterbodies
As far as removal of seemai karuvelam from the waterbodies under the control of the Water Resources Department was concerned, the judges took note of a status report filed by the Chief Engineer stating that the invasive species had spread over 1.92 lakh hectares and that it was removed from around 72,000 hectares.
The Chief Engineer told the court that the trees from the rest of the waterbodies would be removed in a phased manner. However, not in agreement with such submission, the judges said that removing the invasive species in a phased manner would not help since they would regrow in a place by the time they get removed from another place.
The Bench directed the Chief Engineer to call for tenders for removal of the invasive species from all waterbodies at one go and ensure that they were uprooted and replaced with native species. “The tender process for removal of the exotic species from the waterbodies must be completed within three months,” it ordered.
Removal from village panchayats
On being told that the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department too had simultaneously taken up the task of eradicating the exotic species from all village panchayats, the judges expressed surprise over the panchayats having spent over ₹4.74 crore for uprooting the trees from 2,700 hectares of land.
They wondered why so much money had been spent despite the panchayats having obtained financial assistance from private companies through Corporate Social Responsibility funds. The judges also insisted on the Department submitting a report on the revenue that had been generated by selling the uprooted trees.
In order to ensure accountability, the Bench said, that henceforth the district Collectors, in their capacity as Inspector of Panchayats, must oversee the eradication process and submit monthly reports before the court. The Collectors were also ordered to permit the panchayats to go for public auction for removal of the trees.
To make sure that the invasive species do not regrow, the court ordered planting of native species after clearing the exotic species. “You can achieve the mission of Green Tamil Nadu only if this seemai karuvelam is eradicated. It has totally destroyed the biodiversity of the State,” Justice Kumar told a Special Government Pleader.
Concurring with him, Justice Chakravarthy said: “Wherever we go, we see only this species. For example, entire Tiruvannamalai district is full of only seemai Karuvelam. When I was a small child in Vandavasi, I used to see at least 20 different species. Now, there is nothing but prosopis juliflora. Removal of the exotic species and planting of native species must be integrated.”