Road through Kodagu reserved forests: Speaker Bopaiah in trouble
In what could spell trouble for legislators from Kodagu, including Speaker K.G. Bopaiah, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has recommended “stern intervention” by the Supreme Court for “willfully violating” provisions of the forest and wildlife Acts by constructing roads through Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuaries and Kadamakal reserved forest in Kodagu district.
The CEC team led by P.V. Jayakrishnan had visited the Kodagu forests at the instance of the Supreme Court on a complaint filed by Air Marshal K.C. Cariappa (retired) in December, 2008, against the road formation in the ecologically sensitive part of the Western Ghats.
Besides the Speaker, the CEC has recommended action against S.G. Medappa, MLC and Madikeri MLA Appachu Ranjan, and the then Deputy Commissioner Baladevakrishna, and former conservator of forests, Kodagu circle, G.A. Sudarshan.
The CEC held these persons responsible for constructing road despite objections from several forest officials by taking a group of people to the spot with heavy machinery for construction of road in prohibited areas and felling trees.
Three roads were constructed in the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Pattighat Reserved Forest connecting Dabadaka to Bhagamandala-Karike road (length 10 km) and a 23 km road to connect Somwarpet to Subramanya in violation of all forest laws.
The Apex Court bench comprising justices K S Radhakrishna and C K Prasad issued notice to Conservator Sudarshan, seeking his response on the charges made against him.
The CEC has recommended that the Karnataka government be directed to investigate forest officials R K Srivatsav and S D Pathak and any others found to have misused the provision of Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act, 1976. It suggested withdrawal of all decisions, orders, circulars and instructions that allow felling of naturally grown trees.
The CEC has suggested that the state government should constitute an expert committee to identify and consider the feasibility of acquiring the private enclosures having dense natural forests adjoining the reserve forests or wildlife sanctuaries in Kodagu district and other districts within Western Ghats region to prevent further fragmentation and destruction.
Meanwhile, the state Congress unit has demanded the resignation of Speaker Bopaiah on his being indicted by the CEC of the Supreme Court.
EDITOR’S VIEW: It is apparent that the elected representatives from Kodagu, headed by Speaker Bopaiah, had encouraged the local villagers to take up the road formation. This smacks of vote bank politics.
The road through the forests would have brought short-term gains to the villagers as this would have cut down distances to various towns. But on the flip side, the road would have benefited the timber smuggling lobby.
The tragedy of the entire episode is the blatant involvement of the top officials of the Kodagu district administration, headed by the Deputy Commissioner, who had the temerity to direct the entire operation, despite opposition from forest officials.
It may be recalled that Air Marshal Cariappa who had opposed the road formation and several other environmentalists, including Col C.P. Muthanna (retired), were threatened by the local BJP goons.