Q: The PAs of the country are legally protected, and cannot be affected much by development. However, grasslands, dry scrub areas and wetlands (especially, swamps) which, at times, harbour a number of rare species of fauna and flora, are getting severely affected by development. The government is more than willing to give such lands for factories, new universities, etc., may be because we consider only trees to be forests. Even the criteria of deemed forests in Karnataka only considers the number of trees and their growth rate. The grasslands, dry scrub habitats and swamps are disappearing fast. What can be done?

Asked by Swayam Chowdhary

Answer from Praveen Bhargav, Managing Trustee, Wildlife First:

You have raised a very valid question. Some possible solutions, depending the local context, could be:

  1. To ascertain if the grassland/scrub/swamp forms part of a notified Eco-sensitive Zone or Buffer area of a Protected Area (PA). If so, they do get some protection.
  2. Many grasslands/scrub may be notified ‘gomals’ or ‘kavals’ (pasture land) which again get some protection from several judgments of the Karnataka High Court.
  3. Under the Karnataka Forest Act [Section 2 (2)] any such lands at the disposal of the Government not included in any forest or allotted for any other purpose are designated as District Forests and rules applicable to Protected Forests apply (Rule 31).
  4. Under Rule 41 no land adjacent to district forests or within 100 mts from a reserved forest shall be granted by the District Commissioner (DC) without the concurrence of the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF).
  5. The documented records of Schedule I or other species using such lands is also grounds for seeking protection under the Wildlife Protection Act.
  6. Swamps could be part of important wetlands and may come under the Ramsar convention.

If you are intending to take up any specific case you could first ascertain the correct status of the land, obtain documents under RTI (visit our RTI toolkit) and then make out a memorandum to relevant forest/revenue authorities. If no action is initiated you could approach the State High Court through a Writ Petition since the NGT does not have jurisdiction under State Forest Acts and Wildlife Act”.

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