Wednesday, December 30, 2009

FOREST DEPT DOESN’T KNOW EXTENT OF ITS LAND

OREST DEPT DOESN’T KNOW EXTENT OF ITS LAND
NIRANJAN KAGGERE


The forest department, which is supposed to oversee and protect the State’s green cover, does not know the extent of forest area in Karnataka! The startling revelation came in reply to an Right to Information (RTI) Act application filed by Bangalore Mirror.
The question asked was: ‘What is the total forest area in the State?’ The reply, from the forest departments headquarters in Malleswaram, was: the total forest area in the State is not available in this office and no such data is being maintained in this office.
What is worse, the reply came from the office of the chief conservator of forests (working plan), which is supposed to be drawing plans and allocating funds for forest development.
The reply reveals just how serious the forest department is about doing its job. If the forest department does not know how much land is under its jurisdiction, who else will?
Don’t bother to ask Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa because he is the head of this department.
Mirror filed the RTI application on Nov 25, 2009 after the CM said on Nov 10 that the forest and mineral resources of the State were being looted by vested interests.
He, and the forest department, knew about it, but are unable to stop the loot. As the BJP was facing a crisis at that time due to dissidence by the Bellary-based Reddy brothers, it appeared that the CM was hinting at the mining lobby.
Well, if the CM is serious about protecting the State’s forest, he could start by asking the department to find out the extent of the forest cover.
Surprisingly, the forest department’s official website has the answer. It says, Karnataka has a recorded forest area of 43,356.45 sq km, which is 22.60 per cent of the total geographical area of the State. Sixty per cent of the Western Ghats are located in Karnataka.
The land actually covered by forest is 33,238.47 sq km, open forest (10 to 40 per cent) and scrub forest (less than 10 per cent density) is 15,212 sq km; and mangrove forest is 3 sq km. The rest of the forest land is not covered by forest. However, the problem is that the website does not specify on what date these numbers were recorded or the year-wise break-up.
WASTE OF TAX-PAYERS’ MONEY
Moreover, the reply also points to the colossal waste of tax-payers’ money. The department has 158 Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers, whose pay ranges from Rs 25,000 to Rs 80,000 per month.
Apart from them, there are hundreds of Range Forest Officers (RFOs), guards and watchers. Including the various projects undertaken, both the State and Central governments spend crores of rupees every month to maintain the forest cover of Karnataka.
According to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, in the last three years starting 2006, Karnataka has been given Rs 70.02 crore under the Forest Development Agency (FDA) for regeneration of degraded forests and adjoining areas. However, his ministry did not carry out a study to assess the exact increase in forest cover after the funds were released.
Questions we sent (Nov 25, 2009):
What is the total forest area in the State?
What is the total area of forests in the State as of November 24, 2009? Please give district-wise breakup according to natural forest, plantation forest, mangrove forest etc.
Reply we received (Dec 21, 2009)
As requested in your letter ... the total forest area in the State as of 24th November 2009 is not available in this office (Aranya Bhavan, Malleswaram) and no such data is being maintained in this office. This is for your information.

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