The Union Ministry of Environment has directed the Office of the Additional Chief Secretary of Karnataka (Forests, Ecology and Environment) to take necessary action regarding the issue of abandonment of different categories of land in the renowned forest listing. The ministry acted on representation from Shivamogga-based lawyer Veerendra R Patil who accused forest officials of deliberately removing kan, jungle, soppinabetta and kumki land categories from the list of deemed forests.
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Kan, jungle, soppinabetta are patches of small evergreen forests in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Kumki land is government land adjacent to agricultural land.
“I am instructed to attach hereto a representation dated February 10th received from Veerendra R Patil, Shivamogga. In this regard, it is informed that the issues raised in the complaint are related to the abandonment of certain categories of land such as kan, jungle, sopinabetta, kumki in the list of deemed forests. As the issues raised in the representation concern the state government, it is requested to take necessary action in accordance with the rules and regulations in force,” reads the order dated March 31 from the Ministry of Environment.
In 1996, the Supreme Court, in its interim order, ordered the cessation of all non-forestry activities in the forest zone without the prior approval of the Center and affirmed that the word “forest” must be understood according to the dictionary meaning and all land in government records, regardless of ownership, will be considered “forest.” As instructed, the committee of experts appointed by the government of Karnataka identified 912,789.96 hectares of “deemed forests” in the state in 1997.
As a number of proposed projects in reputable forest areas had to be referred under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 for permission, the state government decided in 2015 to review the status of the reputable forest list and reduced the extent to 498,991.93 hectares. On March 13, 2018, the government wrote to the Supreme Court’s Empowered Central Committee to reduce the extent of the deemed forest to 330,186.996 hectares.
Patil explained that forest department officials deliberately abandoned several areas of the statutory forest despite having proper government records, including a village map and land records.
“The government in 1997 also excluded strip plantations, roadside plantations, canalside plantations from the list of deemed forests. Abandoning several well-known forest areas and deliberately showing the slightest extent will only protect invaders. The Kan lands of Shivamogga are high quality forested areas in the Western Ghats and should be protected,” he added.
Meanwhile, Additional Chief Secretary Jawaid Akhtar did not respond to calls.