It could be a win-win situation for forest-dwellers as a number of private land owners in the Western Ghats are coming forward to give up their land to the government.
Acting on recommendations from a recent meeting in Mysuru about freeing elephant corridors in the state, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has initiated the first step in this regard.
Land owners from Hassan, Kodagu and Kudremukh have expressed interest in giving their lands away to the Forest Department if the plans to purchase it works out. The lands are now under private holding in forests of Bisle, Sakaleshpur and Hongadahalla in Hassan, Kudrermukh in Chikmagaluru District and Talacauvery wildlife sanctuary. Pattighat and Padinalkunadu Reserve Forests in Kodadu district, have come forward with their applications as they are unable to do anything in these holdings.
Most of these holdings were established decades ago and they stand right in the ‘elephant corridor’. Traditionally, elephants move from one forest to another in search of food and water through the routes called ‘elephant corridors’. But due to increased human presence, roads and other developmental activities along these corridors, situations of conflict between the elephants and humans is on the rise.
Wildlife experts, who have welcomed the move, suggested that the steps must taken in this regard before the land prices in these forest areas shoots up. Senior wildlife conservationist and Tiger Biologist, K Ullas Karanth said that the forest department must take up relocation of families within the tiger reserves. “By doing this, we will have large consolidated landscape for tigers and other animals. The forest department must look for large investments in tiger reserves to ensure that families that are ready to move out are facilitated,” he said.
Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First organisation, said that in terms of policy, the announcement that NGOs and private trusts will be encouraged to purchase private land within forests or its fringes is an important step forward.
“One such pioneering effort in the country was initiated in 2003 in Kudremukh by Wildlife First which demonstrated that consolidation of wildlife habitats with private donor funds was possible within the policy framework. However, the mention of forest user agencies being “encouraged” to purchase private land to be handed over to Forest Department is rather intriguing. For the guidelines of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, mandate that forest user agencies must acquire an equivalent area of private land and mutate it in favour of the Forest Department before stage II clearance is granted for forest land sought for diversion,” he said.
“But in most cases the state government was condoning this and instead imposing additional levies for compensatory afforestation. It is hoped that based on this announcement, the government will now insist on user agencies acquiring private land at ecologically appropriate locations and transfer it to the Forest Department for creating viable buffers or corridors,” he added.