Interview: Forest cover in focus, 5 crore saplings to be planted this year, says Karnataka Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre

Khandre said the state government is evolving a plan to work with farmers and students to achieve the ambitious target.

ByNischith N

Published Jun 18, 2023 | 10:00 AM Updated Jun 18, 2023 | 10:00 AM

Eshwar Khandre, Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment, Government of Karnataka. (Twitter/Creative Commons)

A majority of people are discussing the five guarantees that were promised in the election manifesto as the new Congress government in Karnataka, led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, takes office.

However, there are a number of other difficulties that need to be dealt with — and the development of the state’s forest is one of them.

Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment Eshwar Khandre — who is also the working president of the KPCC — spoke exclusively to South First in an interview, in which he stated that all the promises made in the manifesto will be upheld, including the commitments regarding ecology and the environment.

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Q. How will you deal with cases of encroachment of forest areas? Under the last government, encroachment of forests increased steadily.

A. Encroachment of forest land is a very difficult issue. No recent encroachment on forest land has occurred. The exact location of the invasion can now be easily determined, thanks to GPS technology and satellite pictures. But the areas where the forests were been encroached long before, we must get rid of human intrusions in order to safeguard the forest. However, we need to take humanitarian action to reunite people who have been living in little camps in far-off forests for 40 to 50 years.

As an example, in a recent incident, there was a complaint against the illegal mining of stone in forest land. The Deputy Conservator of Forests of Hassan, K Harish, was subject to an inquiry after allegedly giving a no-objection certificate to start a quarry in an area that had been declared as deemed forests. The charges were apparently proven against him, and he has since been suspended. After 12 years, this is the first instance in which an officer has been suspended. So, our government will continue its work in the protection of forests.

Q. You have formed two more elephant task forces. What is this for?

A. Elephants usually move between May and June in search of food, including the more accessible jackfruit, coffee beans, and bananas during this time of year. Therefore, elephant-human conflict can be avoided if the elephants that reach the public areas are quickly returned to the forest. Due to the prevalence of elephants in Ramanagara and Bannerghatta, it has been decided to form these two new task teams there. In the Ramanagara district, an elephant attack recently claimed the lives of two people. As soon as the disaster struck, I instructed our staff to put in all reasonable efforts to return the elephant to the forest, and I personally went to the houses of the victims to present a cheque of ₹15 lakh to each of deceased’s family.

Also Read: Mobile squads to help detect wildlife crimes in Karnataka

Q. In the last few years, cases of wildlife offences like poaching, selling of animal products, etc, have increased in Karnataka. What steps will you take to bring down the number of wildlife offence cases?

A. According to my information, there are actually fewer cases of poaching, the sale of wildlife products, and other illicit activities than in the past. Security personnel of the Forest Department are doing an excellent job. I have already given the green signal to take tough action in order to prevent similar situations from happening. So, definitely this issue will be controlled further.

Q. The Mekedatu project is considered to be environmentally hazardous. Will your government support this project?

A. The environment needs to be protected and developed, only then can it be called sustainable development. The Mekedatu project is essential for the city of Bengaluru’s drinking water supply and for using our fair share of water in the Kaveri basin. The Congress party marched for this initiative in recent times. The government undoubtedly supports this project and the chief minister, deputy chief minister, and Forest Department will decide what to do after thoroughly considering its benefits and drawbacks.

Related: Electric fences, poaching pose threat to Karnataka wildlife

Q. There have also been many incidents of electrocution of animals. Any new initiative as forest minister in this regard?

A. Wild animal electrocution-related deaths are frequently reported around the state. According to reports, farmers have electrified fences to protect their crops. The Forest Department personnel routinely evaluate this and legal action will be taken to remove any fences that have been improperly electrified and in cases where animals have died as a result of electrocution.

Q. There is the issue of pending salaries of frontline staffers. Will this be addressed by your government?

A. As I have only recently taken charge, this hasn’t come to my notice. If there are any frontline workers who have not received their salaries, a report will be made and the proper action will be taken.

Q. What steps are you taking to improve the green cover of the state? Will you allocate any funds for it?

A. More plants and trees should be there in order to preserve the environment for future generations. In this regard, a goal has been set for planting five crore saplings this year across Karnataka. As per the plan, the Forest Department will plant 2.5 crore saplings and the remaining 2.5 crore saplings will be distributed to farmers and school and college students. After speaking with the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, the Nirmala Karnataka Vriksha Laksha Abhiyan will shortly be launched with the goal of planting at least five saplings by each school on the fifth of every month.

Also Read: Karnataka: 4 amazing trekking spots for nature lovers

Q. Several projects like the peripheral ring road in Bengaluru will lead to the cutting down of thousands of trees. Will your government review such projects?

A. In order to build the layout and the peripheral ring road in Nadaprabhu Kempegowda layout, it has come to my notice that thousands of trees have been felled. Bangalore Development Authority has offered to plant only 40,000 saplings in exchange. A request has been made to DK Sivakumar, who is also the minister for urban development in Bengaluru, in this regard and action will be taken to plant more saplings to improve the green cover.

Q. The Congress government, in its last tenure, repealed the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Act which jeopardised the protection of lakes. How will you ensure the protection of lakes now?

A. Lakes must continue to exist because they are water bodies that serve as localised water resources in the most literal and practical sense. There won’t be a water shortage if the water in all of Bengaluru’s lakes is drinkable. But as the city expanded, the issues grew worse, and now the lakes are polluted. On my third day serving as a minister, I visited Bellandur Lake in Bengaluru. As instructed by the National Green Tribunal, I have given permission to build sewage treatment plants and the project will be finished by 2024. Regarding the Act, I will speak with the chief minister and the law minister.