Social activist Gireesh Achar has filed a complaint before the southern zone of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) against former IAS officers Madan Gopal and T M Vijaya Bhaskar for de-notifying 9,934.02 acres of forest land in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district between 2015-2017.
In his complaint filed on September 29, the Shivamogga-based activist said that though the Forest Conservation Act makes it mandatory for the state government to seek the Union government’s approval before de-notifying or converting forest areas, the same did not happen in this case. Achar has requested the MoEF&CC to direct the authorities to withdraw all the de-notification orders and initiate an enquiry against the former IAS officers. Achar also raised the issue before the Karnataka Lokayukta on September 1, seeking action against the two former IAS officers.
Calls made to Gopal and Bhaskar were not answered. While Gopal is currently the chairman of the Karnataka Eco Tourism Board, Bhaskar is chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission.
Achar’s complaint (a copy of it has been shared with indianexpress.com) points out that 56 notification orders were issued on November 17, December 14 and December 19 in 2015; on July 19, September 28 and November 23 in 2016; and on February 23 in 2017 to de-notify the reserved forest/forest area measuring 9934.02 acres.
Gopal and Bhaskar issued the said 56 de-notifications under Section 28 of Karnataka Forest Act, 1963, said Veerendra Patil, an advocate representing Achar. “They contended that no permission was required from the Union government for issuing de-notifications. However, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Section 2 clearly talks about the ‘restriction on the de-reservation of forest or use of forest land for non-forest purposes’. No state government or other authority shall make any change except with the prior approval of the central government,” Patil added.
Patil explained that the central government on May 5, 1996, approved the diversion of 14,848.83 hectares of forest land in Sagar forest division in Shivamogga district to rehabilitate farmers who lost their land to the Sharavathi Reservoir Project.
“The encroachments made before 1978 were regularised by the Union government. The Forest Conservation Act was enacted in the year 1980 and then it was made mandatory that any diversion of forest land would require the prior permission of the central government. So the de-notifications made by the former IAS officers in the period between 2015-2017 are illegal and violate the Forest Conservation Act,” Patil added.
“It is not practically possible to challenge all the 56 de-notifications herein. Petitioner challenged one de-notification before the high court of Karnataka in 2019. On March 4, 2021, the court passed an order quashing the de-notification dated 23.02.2017,” Achar said in his complaint.