Heritage tag for Kodagu forests: Minister hand-in-glove with forest mafia?
Is Karnataka’s forest minister dancing to the tune of the timber mafia in opposing the world heritage status for sites in the Western Ghats, including the Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Talacauvery wildlife sanctuaries in Kodagu?
The UNESCO, a body of the United Nations, has short-listed 10 sites in the Western Ghats in Karnataka to accord the world heritage status with a view to protect and conserve the natural heritage for future generations.
Though the move has the backing of the Union government and other state governments in south India, only Karnataka has opposed the proposal.
The forest minister C.H. Vijayashankar has gone to the extent of equating UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) with the British East India Company.
According to experts, the world heritage tag would add value and protection to biodiversity hotspots and encourage tourism. It does not in any way affect the property rights in the area as UNESCO has no power to interfere in the affairs of the local governments.
Opposing the world heritage tag, the forest minister stated: “Why do we need UNESCO branding our wealth when we know how to protect them? Why should we allow foreigners to control us indirectly?”
In the past, the move to accord the world heritage status had met with resistance in Kodagu and a UNESCO team had to face the wrath of a section of the local people. This happened mainly because there was no proper debate on the issue and also due to the apprehension that tree rights of the people would be affected.
But these fears have no basis because the sites identified in Kodagu are already protected areas and form part of the reserved forests.
Since the heritage tag would involve strict enforcement of forest laws, this would affect the free run of the timber mafia and also the resort lobby, who are trying to set up businesses in the core areas of the forests.
Kodagu forests have already been plundered by the forest mafia with the backing of powerful politicians of all hues. It is time the people saw through the game of the politician-mafia nexus.