Say no to Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act Amendment sign now

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Acknowledging that "trees which provide shade, mitigate the extremes of climate, render aesthetic beauty, purify the polluted atmosphere, mute the noise, have been one of the first casualties of pressure on space in our cities and towns", and also admitting that "we have reached the stage when it is incumbent to legislate to restrict and regulate the felling of trees and prescribe growing of a minimum number where none exists", Government of Karnataka enacted the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 ("Trees Act" hereinafter).

Also acknowledging the importance of trees to mankind and realizing the fact that unless tree felling is restricted, our green cover may disappear through greed and ignorance, the Government of Karnataka enacted the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976, which made permission from the Forest Department mandatory for felling trees.

According to the Trees Act, trees may only be felled with prior permission of the Forest Department which has the duty and liability to preserve and protect trees.

Chapter V of the Trees Act exempts 11 species of trees from this restriction and these are: Casuarina, Coconut, Erythrina, Eucalyptus, Glyrecidia, Hopea wightiana, Prosopis, Rubber, Sesbania, Silver Oak and Subabul.

Any person (including a public official of a municipal corporation or government department in his official capacity) who fells a tree that is not in the exemption list without prior official permission of the Tree Officer is liable for criminal prosecution according to the Trees Act. It means that anyone (including officials of government bodies) is subject to criminal prosecution for felling a tree without the required permission.

This requirement of official permission has prevented large scale felling of trees, and has also restrained people and officials from unnecessarily felling trees owing to fear of criminal prosecution. Thus the KPT Act thus put a brake on tree felling and helped protect our green cover.

Recently, however, the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests / PCCF (HQ and Coordination) of the Karnataka State Forest Department has promoted a Draft Amendment to the Trees Act expanding the numbers of tree species that may be felled without prior permission to 41 (including the 11 in the existing list).

Almost all the species now included for exemption constitute the major tree wealth of both rural and urban Karnataka.

Unbelievably the list includes Aala (Ficus benghalensis, National Tree of India), Arali (Ficus religiosa, Sacred tree), Goni (Ficus mysorensis), Atthi (Ficus racemosa, Queen of Trees) and three types of basari.

All these Ficus species are home to millions of birds and small mammals which not only feast on the figs but also act as insect controlling agents. Easing the removal of Ficus trees, for instance, will devastate bird life and thus aid spread of pests.

At present 11 tree species are exempted from this restriction, but Government of Karnataka is now considering an amendment to the KPT Act which would add 30 more species including all the common trees which are a major part of our tree species in Karnataka to the list of exemptions.

The exemption list also includes many major fruit trees such as Mango, Jackfruit, Sapota, Lemon, Lime, Tamarind, Guava, etc. and Neem, Peepul, Banyan, Honge (Pongamia pinnata), Dalbergia Sissoo amongst others. Shivni (Gmelina arborea), an excellent timber tree known as white teak, is also listed for exemption.

Most tree fellings are impulsive moves, without much thought given to long-term consequences. People cut trees because they block the view or because they shed leaves on their yard, without thinking about the shade they give and the cooling effect they provide.

Government bodies cut trees on narrow footpaths to widen roads, forgetting that without footpaths, pedestrians will walk on the roads, thus defeating the very purpose of road widening. The condition that tree felling needs permission from the forest department has severely reduced such impulsive and ill-considered tree fellings.

At present, the Forest Department can insist on replacement plantings of saplings as a precondition for permission to cut existing trees. But if no permission is needed to cut any tree, the Department cannot insist on replacement plantings.

It is incomprehensible and unfortunate that the Forest Department appointed as official and public protector of trees is actually making it more easy for anybody and everybody to fell trees at will.

Besides the fact that the exemption of these trees erodes the admittedly small revenue to the State, it frighteningly encourages reckless tree felling that could soon result in the loss of trees at a regional or even state level. No tree planting programme can ever compensate the loss of existing large and old trees.

Livelihoods of thousands of families that subsist on gathering the seeds, fruits and flowers of these trees will be severely compromised due to the removal of these trees in large numbers.

While this move to expand the exemption list could amount to dereliction of duty by the Forest Department at the general cost of the State and the environment, it is also a move that belies rationale and gives rise to a range of suspicions about the motives involved.

Today as our/Karnataka State is losing its tree cover and the effects of climate change connected with decimation of tree cover are becoming apparent, there is need to place more restrictions on tree felling rather than expand the exemption list of trees that may be freely felled.

That such a proposal is made in the International Year of Biodiversity, an effort to heighten concern amongst the peoples and Governments of the world to prevent loss of biodiversity, is truly shocking and condemnable.

The proposed removal of the restriction on 30 more common species of trees will hasten capricious and mindless killing of trees. So the amendment needs to be opposed by all right-thinking people.

On the eve of the International Biodiversity Day on Saturday, May 22, 2010 we strongly urge Government of Karnataka or GoK to withdraw this proposed draft amendment to the Trees Act.

Instead we demand that the Government engage in a dialogue with local governments, local communities, and environmental and civil society groups to strengthen the Tree Act and help protect the Tree Wealth of Karnataka.

01) Union Ministry of Environment and Forests or MoEF
02) Union Ministry of Urban Development or MoUD
03) Hon'ble Guv / Governor of Karnataka
04) Hon'ble Chief Minister / CM of Karnataka
05) All Principal Chief Conservator of Forests or PCCFs
06) Chief Conservator of Forests or CCFs
07) Conservator of Forests or CFs
08) Deputy Conservator of Forests or DCFs
09) Assistant Conservator of Forests or ACFs
10) Principal Secretary Forest, Ecology & Environment Department
11) Principal Secretary Urban Development / UD
12) Principal Secretary DPAR-AR
13) Principal Secretary DPAR (Janaspandana)
14) Secretary Horticulture Department
15) Secretary Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms / DPAR

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Bernadine RangelBy:
Petition target:
The Union MoEF / MoUD, Karnataka Governor / Guv / Chief Minister / CM, Chief Secy, PCCFs, CCFs, CFs, DCFs, ACFs, Principal Secy Forest, Ecology & Environment / UD / DPAR / DPAR-AR & Secy Horticulture / DPAR


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