Karnataka chief secretary Vandita Sharma

By P.T. Bopanna

Karnataka chief secretary Vandita Sharma (in picture) owes an explanation to the people as to why there is delay in taking action against the former BJP legislators from Kodagu (Coorg) who were involved in threatening forest officers and taking up a road construction activity in Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary of the Western Ghats.

In an order dated last December 13, a bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), led by chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, had set a three-month deadline for taking action against the BJP legislators and officials.

The NGT had ordered that the issue may be finalised by a joint committee comprising the chief secretary of Karnataka and the Regional Officer of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

It is learnt that the joint committee at a closed-door meeting held in April, decided to take action against the former Speaker, K.G. Bopaiah, MLA Appachu Ranjan,  MLC S.G. Medappa, and the then Kodagu DC Baldev Krishna for diverting forest land for road construction and felling of trees in 2008. The committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary of Karnataka Vandita Sharma, decided to fix responsibility on those involved and take suitable action.

It is learnt that the case details were sent to the principal chief conservator of forests (general), Karnataka, to study the file and decide what action need to be taken. 

The recent actions of the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) in giving  plum posting to DCF Y. Chakrapani, who was allegedly involved in abetting the looting of forest in Kodagu (Coorg) district has reflected badly on the Congress government. The PCCF’s role in the matter has come under scrutiny.

In the circumstances, the chief secretary has to take appropriate action, considering the fact that the NGT deadline for taking action is already delayed by three months.

The incident dates back to 2008 when the construction activity was taken up inside the sanctuary without getting the necessary permissions, especially clearance from the forest department. The matter reached the Supreme Court after retired air marshal Nanda Cariappa moved a petition.

The apex court set up a Central Empowered Committee (CEC).The CEC submitted a report in 2012 stating that the construction was “not only in violation of the laws of the land but also amounted to contempt” of the apex court orders.

The committee report rejected the argument of Bopaiah, Appachu Ranjan and MLC Medappa that they had gone to the spot to “placate the agitated public”.

Over 10 years after an apex court-appointed committee sought stern action against BJP MLAs Bopaiah and Appachu Ranjan and others for threatening forest officers and taking up a road construction activity in Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, the NGT remitted the case to the state government.

In a blatant violation of the law, the Kodagu district administration, backed by the two Kodagu BJP MLAs, and supported by local villagers attempted to lay a road through the Pushpagiri reserve forest, amid opposition from Karnataka forest officials.

The controversial road is a seven km stretch between Madikeri and Subramanya near Mangalore in Dakshina Kannada district. Over 400 villagers from Galibeedu near Madikeri, deployed earthmovers to make the road. Their contention was that the road would shorten the distance between Kodagu and Subramanya.

In a mockery of justice, the villagers were provided ‘police protection’ to form the road by the district administration, headed by the then Deputy Commissioner Baldev Krishna.

The top district officials, including the Superintendent of Police, went to the extent of publicly humiliating forest official Anil Rathan who protested against the road being formed through the reserve forest.

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