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Centre supports greens' contention on grasslands (Nov)

 
Business Standard, New Delhi, 1st November, 2013
 
Correspondent :
 
In a possible setback for the DRDO, BARC, ISRO and IISc in setting up their facilities in the grasslands or the Amrut Mahal kaval lands in Chitradurga, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has filed a common counter before the National Green Tribunal (South Zone) in which it agreed with the contentions in the applications that the grassland ecosystems constitute a critical habitat for some endangered species of birds and animals, and that they are deemed forests.
In keeping with a September 27 direction, the ministry has also held that the kavals constitute "a potential habitat of Great Indian Bustard", a critically-endangered bird.
 
The ministry has also confirmed that "part of the area allotted to various organisations" such as the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Sagitaur, and others, "has in fact been included in the list of deemed forests as per an order passed by the Supreme Court".
 
"Areas which have the characteristics of forests and identified as deemed forests irrespective of the ownership also require permission under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for using them for non-forestry purposes" even as it has acknowledged "there is no specific order of the government", i.e., Karnataka government, "declaring Amrut Mahal Kaval lands as District Forests."
 
The ministry has pointed out that "there are many areas within the reserved and protected forests, which are grasslands and similar to Amrut Mahal Kavals" and found that the area supports wildlife like black buck, hares, sloth bear, among others."
 
The ministry says, "about 1,200 ha of the Amrut Mahal Kaval area allotted to various organisations, has in fact been included in the list of deemed forest in compliance with a Supreme Court order. Hence, this 1,200 hectares, in any case, requires forest clearance before it is put to non-forestry use. There is a case for examining the inclusion of remaining area also in the deemed forest as per the order of the Supreme Court since both the areas are similar."
 
ESG has contended that the status of 9,473 acres of land as "forest" or "non-forest" is to be decided through a joint inspection of the State Forest Department and the Regional Office of the Ministry, as per the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in Lafarge Judgment and interpretation of the Karnataka Forest Act and Rules framed thereunder".