KARNATAKA

Evict encroachers, NGOs urge Govt.

BANGALORE Jan. 3. Wildlife-lovers and conservation groups in Bangalore are alarmed over the demand for the regularisation of over 98,000 hectares of forest land encroachment, and fear that this "systematic dilution of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) 1980", based on the lack of understanding of the utility of forests, would only lead to the decimation of forest resources.

Wildlife First, and its partner organisations throughout the State, have come up with a slew of solutions for the knotty problem within the ambit of the FCA.

About 15 per cent of the encroachments took place prior to April 1978, and they need to be provided a proper resettlement package and compensation in compliance with the Supreme Court directive and conditional clearance from the Centre.

"The approach, therefore, should be to immediately evict those encroachers who do not come under this category, impose heavy fines as provided under law.

This should be deposited as a fund to rehabilitate the socially underprivileged encroachers and to consolidate the boundaries of forests," Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First, told The Hindu.

The State Government Order of 1997 while dealing with the pre-1978 encroachments, had set clear guidelines to categorise such people: SC/STs, landless marginal farmers, and those holding less than three acres, including the encroached land.

To identify genuine beneficiaries for compensation and resettlement, additional caveats such as ownership of mechanised farm equipment, vehicles, and telephones could be added to eliminate non-eligible encroachers, says Thamoo Poovaiah of the Hunsur-based Living Inspiration for Tribals.

But the first step towards evolving a durable solution would be to identify serious threats in terms of ecological and socio-political aspects, says Niren Jain of Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation, Karkala.

The irony of political leaders from the Congress demanding amendments to the FCA has not escaped notice.

As Sanjay Gubbi of Greenwatchers says: "It was Indira Gandhi who showed great foresight and enacted the Act in 1980, curtailing the powers of State governments to divert reserved forest land without the approval of the Centre."

Now, the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, has asked all party chief ministers to desist from seeking hasty amendments to the Act.

The Act and many other legal and constitutional mechanisms notwithstanding, an estimated 45 lakh hectares of forest land has been lost to the non-forestry activities, chiefly agriculture, between 1950 and 1980 nationwide.

Despite this, more than 30 per cent of the population is still landless, and the forest cover has shrunk from 19 per cent of the land area.

The Supreme Court, in its interim order prohibiting all non- forestry activity on forest lands, has stressed on the long-term impact of depleting forest cover, and has taken the matter so seriously as to set up the Central Empowered Committee to monitor implementation of its orders and examine violations and report them to the Court.

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