The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) of the Union government has sent back the State government’s proposal for de-reservation of forest land, released earlier for rehabilitation of families affected by the Sharavathi Valley Hydroelectric Project.
In March this year, the State government sent a proposal to deserve 9,129 acres of forest land in Shivamogga, which was denotified by the State between 1958 and 1969, to rehabilitate the project-affected people. The MoEF has sent it back, citing the Supreme Court’s order in 2000 and 2004 that said, “Pending further orders, no de-reservation of forests/sanctuaries/national parks shall be effected”. The letter sent by Dheeraj Mittal, Assistant Inspector General of Forests said: “In view of the Supreme Court’s orders, the GoK is requested to take appropriate action in this matter.” The State received the letter on May 2, it has belatedly come to light.
With this, the issue has landed in the State government’s court again. The rehabilitation of families affected by the Sharavathi project was one of the major issues in the recently-concluded Assembly elections. Then the ruling BJP assured the people that the issue would be resolved and they would get their land once the Centre accepted the proposal. Former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, then Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, and Shivamogga Lok Sabha member B.Y. Raghavendra did make promises to the people during the election campaign. On the other hand, the Congress leaders had taken out protest rallies on the issue.
The hydroelectric power project executed in the 1960s displaced hundreds of families. Among them, many got alternative land in the forest areas of Sagar, Tirthahalli, Shivamogga, Shikaripur, and Bhadravathi taluks. The State government de-notified the forest lands to benefit the people over several years.
Girish Achar, a resident of Hosanagar, moved the Karnataka High Court in 2019 questioning the de-notification of forest land. The court in its order on March 4, 2021, ordered the cancellation of the identification on the ground that the State government had not sought the Centre’s permission for denotification. Subsequently, the Department of Forest, Ecology, and Environment in Karnataka issued an order on September 28, cancelling the orders that denotified the forest land.
Not rejected, says MP
When The Hindu contacted Mr. Raghavendra for his comments on the Centre’s decision, he said the proposal had not been rejected by the Centre. “I spoke to officers concerned on this issue. There is nothing to worry about. The Centre has not rejected the proposal. It has suggested the State approach the court for a remedy. I will follow up on the issue. I am hopeful that it will be resolved,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ramesh Hegde, Congress spokesperson, who headed the party’s committee on issues bothering Malnad farmers, said that the Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, empowered the Centre to give its consent for ‘diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes’. “I don’t know why the Centre rejected the proposal, when there is a legal provision to give its consent on the issue,” he said.
He also termed it the failure of the BJP leaders, who had promised the people of getting the Centre’s approval for the proposal during the elections.